Is Juan Soto the best player in baseball?
This baseball season has been taken over by young talent, with players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and, most recently, Wander Franco and the 20-year-old rookie’s eye-popping on-base streak dominating much of the discussion.
But there are, of course, so many great young players throughout the game. In the midst of what has become a lost season for the Washington Nationals, it feels as though we have collectively forgotten – to an extent – that Juan Soto might just be the best player in baseball.
Soto, 22, has already spent four years in the big leagues, breaking in with the Nationals when he was just 19 years old. Soto hit .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs, 25 doubles, 70 RBIs and a 146 wRC+, eventually losing the NL Rookie of the Year award to Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr, in his rookie campaign.
But ever since that incredible rookie season with the Nationals, Soto has just continued to get better each year. This season might be his best so far.
Despite dealing with some injuries earlier in the year, Soto has put together a tremendous .309/.454/.525 line with 25 home runs, 83 RBI and a 160 wRC+, the second-best mark of his career behind 2020’s outstanding 201 wRC+ in the shortened season.
Perhaps most impressively is that Soto has 119 walks this year to just 83 strikeouts, demonstrating a 21% walk rate to just a 14.7% strikeout rate.
And as far as the advanced stats go, Soto is basically playing a video game on easy mode for the Nationals against everyone else. Here’s a look at his Statcast percentiles, courtesy of Baseball Savant:
From his walk rate and exit velocity to his xBA, wOBA, hard hit rate and more, Soto is clearly one of the most dominant hitters in the game – and already one of the most feared too, as he currently leads all of baseball in intentional walks (and has done so for two straight years).
Soto’s spray chart for the Nationals is even more beautiful, with colorful dots lining every inch of the baseball field:
Again, Soto is just 22 years old; it’s very likely the best is still yet to come. The same goes for Tatis Jr., Guerrero Jr., Acuna Jr., Franco, etc. It’s not just young talent making an impact on the game; it’s very young talent making an impact on the game.
It’s not everyday someone barely older than a teenager comes up to the big leagues and starts raking, let alone a whole crop of them, but here we are, and the game is so much better for it.
Now here’s a little exercise for you. Among these tremendous young talents in the game, who would you choose to build your team around? Even when considering the likes of everyone we’ve mentioned to this point, it’s hard to not make the case for the Nationals’ superstar. The stats are obviously there and he already feels like a veteran leader. A deep World Series run will do that.
The Nationals certainly seem to feel the same way, which is probably why it was a much easier pill to swallow when the team traded away their young superstar shortstop Trea Turner at this year’s deadline. There’s a good chance Turner will one day garner a massive contract, as Soto no doubt will as well. And by trading Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with future Hall of Fame pitcher Max Scherzer, the Nationals were able to get an incredible haul. They acquired the Dodgers’ top two prospects in catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray. That just doesn’t happen.
So Washington is seemingly ready to rebuild, with the still-young Soto as the key piece to their eventual return to contention. The Nationals are trying to go young after having one of the oldest rosters in baseball during their 2019 World Series run, and are shedding as many big contracts as they can in the hopes of avoiding a lengthy rebuilding process while also still being able to eventually afford Soto. So far, so good on that front.
Young, charismatic stars like Soto, Tatis Jr., Guerrero Jr., Acuna Jr., and now even Franco are beginning to dominate the game. Fans are being introduced to a whole new generation of superstars seemingly all at once. If this is any indication of the direction of baseball for the next decade and beyond, the future of the game is in great hands.