Juan Soto is already one of the best players in baseball, and Game 1 of the World Series gave us a glimpse of his greatness, while vaulting the Nationals outfielder into some exclusive company in the process.
It was Soto’s first World Series game, but, then again, it was the Nationals’ first World Series game as a franchise so he wasn’t alone. All he did was help drop an L on the great Gerrit Cole, the Astros’ co-ace who was 19-0 dating back to May 22.
Soto homered in his second Fall Classic at-bat, a 106.1-mph blast that Statcast says went 417 feet, but that distance seems woefully low given that the ball landed on the train tracks.
If Soto stopped there, he already made history. He doesn’t turn 21 until Friday, and only three players younger than Soto have homered in the World Series. You may have heard of them: Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones, and Miguel Cabrera.
What sets Soto apart is, despite his age, none of this is surprising. He tied for the Nationals home run lead in just his second season, and his 56 home runs prior to his 21st birthday are second only to Hall of Famer Mel Ott in major league history. Soto is the sixth-youngest player in the majors.
He isn’t a wild swinger, either. He hit .282/.401/.548. He’s one of six players with a .400 on-base percentage in a season age 21 or younger, along with Jimmie Foxx, Ott, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, and Alex Rodriguez. That’s
five four Hall of Famers (and one who will have to overcome a PED suspension to make it in).
Soto walked 108 times, and even his taking pitches have been legendary, a unique flair much like Javy Baez applying or avoiding tags, and amazingly must-watch television.
Soto started at cleanup 130 times for the Nationals this season, including every one of his starts since late June. In all 11 games this October, Soto has batted fourth. A fixture in the middle of a pennant-winning lineup at age 20. More Cooperstown-level company for Soto, the only cleanup hitters in the World Series younger than him were Cabrera and Ty Cobb.
The home run wasn’t all Soto did in Game 1. He also doubled off the wall to score two more runs in the fifth inning. He drove in three of the five runs scored against Cole, who entered the game having allowed five earned runs in his previous eight starts combined.
It’s been a season to remember for the Nationals, and especially for Soto, who this postseason has:
- Drove home the tying runs in a winning eighth-inning rally in the wild card game, topped off by his father tackling him during a joyous postgame celebration.
- Homered twice in the NLDS against the Dodgers, including a game-tying shot off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of the decisive Game 5.
- Had a three-hit game in the World Series, just the fifth player to do it before turning 21.
- Became the second-youngest player with two extra-base hits in a World Series game, behind only Andruw Jones, who was 19 when he homered twice in 1996.
- Helped deliver the first World Series win for a Washington team in 86 years, after being an integral part to the Nationals’ first two playoff series wins.
Players producing so much at such an early age makes us want even more. We can’t help but think about potential, and — oh, my God — can you imagine what Soto will hit at age 25? Make no mistake, Soto is one of the pillars representing the future of baseball, a headliner in MLB’s “We play loud” campaign.
But his present is amazing, too, and it’s great we get to enjoy it on the national stage.