The force is with young Soto at the plate

No. 2 Washington prospect homers twice, plates five for Potomac

Juan Soto's .375 batting average ranks fifth among all Class A Advanced hitters. (Terrance Williams/MiLB.com)

By Chris Bumbaca / MiLB.com | May 4, 2018 12:25 AM

Juan Soto has only been in the Carolina League for nine games. But he's making it look easy already.

Washington's second-ranked prospect slugged a pair of homers, plated five runs and scored three times Thursday in Potomac's 12-2 rout over Wilmington at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium.

"It's been fun to watch," said P-Nats manager Tripp Keister, who is getting to see Soto take at-bats over an extended period of time for the first time. "He has good at-bats. He hits balls hard. He gets himself in good counts. He hasn't chased. When he puts a good swing on it, it [goes]."


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The Dominican Republic native came to the plate in the first inning with two on and nobody out and promptly bashed a homer to right field. MLB.com's No. 28 overall prospect laid off a pair of secondary pitches that missed the strike zone, then took advantage of a 2-1 fastball down the middle by Blue Claws starter Cristian Castillo and lined it over the fence.

"He didn't miss it," Keister said. "It was a good at-bat. Once again, it was a good at-bat because he laid off the bad pitch and got himself in a good count. But that's what he does. ... His strike zone recognition is very advanced. That has stood out to me."

In the third, Soto lined a single to right and eventually scored on a two-RBI double by Jake Noll. But with the rehabbing Anthony Rendon on second base when the 19-year-old delivered his base knock, Keister was forced to confront what he called his "worst nightmare" of potentially having a rehabbing player in a close play at home plate. Coaching third, the skipper gave the Major Leaguer the stop sign.

"My whole thing was like, 'I'm holding Anthony up the whole time.'" Keister said with a laugh. "I'm like 'Oh my gosh, that's the last thing I need. I'll be fired before the game's over if there's a play at the plate.'"

Soto added another RBI in the fourth on a groundout and flew out to right in the sixth.

April's South Atlantic League Player of the Month led off the ninth with his second dinger of the game, depositing a 1-0 offering from Wilmington right-hander Jared Ruxer over the wall in right-center. Keister said the organization began employing a "selectively aggressive" method for its young hitters two years ago. Soto's natural approach falls in line with the philosophy and his final at-bat was an example of that.

"He's done that since he's been here," Keister said. "He had a two-strike homer other night. We talk about a two-strike approach. Our whole organization from top to bottom talks about a two-strike approach. He shortened up and got in his legs a little more and really drove the ball out with two strikes. That was impressive the other night too.

"I'm not saying he's always in a good count. He knows what he's doing with two strikes. He definitely has a plan at the plate. It's been fun to watch so far." 

Since his promotion from Class A Hagerstown on April 23 -- where he notched his career high of six RBIs in a game -- Soto is hitting .375 with a 1.300 OPS. Soto has four home runs and 12 RBIs through nine games in the Carolina League. Despite the small sample size, Keister said his production has still come as a surprise. But Soto's toughest days are ahead of him, the manager insists.

"The beauty of this league -- and you can ask anybody in this league -- is that we play the same team a bunch of times," Keister said. "They figure you out. ... The intimacy of this league lends itself to teams pitching you tough."

But Soto could be talented enough to keep pace with the pitchers on the circuit. And until the organization promotes MLB.com's No. 8 outfield prospect, the manager said he will enjoy every minute of working with him.

"I like where he is. He's in a good place," Keister said. "He comes to work every day. He works on his defense, baserunning; we're doing everything. ... We're going to keep trying to get him the best he can be, until he leaves."

At present, Soto's providing lineup protection for Rendon, one of the Majors' most dangerous hitters who is currently rehabbing a toe contusion. He batted third in the order -- one spot ahead of Soto -- and went 2-for-4 with a run.

"You have a big leaguer in the dugout, it's always good, especially when you have a guy as good as Anthony, who handles everyone the way he does," Keister said. "He's such a great teammate. Everybody knows what kind of player he is, and if you don't, you're missing out."

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As is tradition among rehabbing Major Leaguers, Rendon purchased a pregame meal from a local establishment consisting of beef, chicken and shrimp skewers.

"We ate good tonight," Keister said.

Aside from the solid meal, the most important thing the Nationals third baseman can offer the Potomac squad is knowledge. Keister said Rendon is very gracious with his time.

"There's only been a few [rehabbing players] that come through and stay here the whole [game]," Keister said. "He stayed in the dugout the whole time, talking with the guys about things." 

Chris Bumbaca is a contributor for MiLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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