At the conclusion of the 2016 Minor League season, the Gulf Coast League (GCL) named Juan Soto as their MVP for the 2016 season, and he was also named an All-Star.
In July of 2015, the Washington Nationals signed Juan Soto to a contract for $1.5 million which was the largest bonus at the time that the Nationals had ever paid to an amateur signed out of the Dominican Republic. Nationals Vice President of International Operations Johnny DiPuglia along with Mike Rizzo and the front office were bold on this signing, and the scouts now agree that the Nats found a hitter with great promise. Soto was placed in the Nationals’ Dominican academy for 2015 after his signing and was in Florida to stay for the 2016 season.
Soto was born in Santo Domingo which is the capital of the Dominican Republic, and agreed to his Washington Nationals contract at the age-of-16, just a few months shy of his 17th birthday. He was not best known as an outfielder when he was discovered by a Dominican coach — Modi Ulloa. He was known as a fireballing pitcher, centerfielder and shortstop. Soto was quite the pitcher who was effectively wild with big “velo” for his age. By the time Johnny DiPuglia laid eyes on Soto he was an outfielder. The nurturing by Ulloa paid immediate dividends. DiPuglia saw a batter with a swing that defied his age given that Soto was only sixteen years old and had a swing that was very advanced.
Earlier this year, Soto was brought to Viera, Florida for his first Spring Training on the Minor League side and stayed on for extended Spring Training and then was assigned to the GCL in June. As a 17-year-old converted to a full-time outfielder, Soto led the entire GCL with a .361 average and was 2nd with a .410 OBP. Soto also led the GCL with a .550 slugging percentage, and a .960 OPS. All of that was accomplished in 45 games for the Nationals’ GCL affiliate. The Nationals then assigned Soto to their short-season New York-Penn League Auburn roster where he went 9-for-21 (.429 BA) with 3 doubles in 6 games in September. His stats can be found on this link.
Soto’s scouting grades from MLB are:
Hit: 55 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
Most of those rankings will improve with age and gaining strength. He will probably stay slightly below average on his run tool, but he has the ability to improve on every other tool. MLB made the following comments:
“Soto has a smooth and balanced left-handed swing which enables him to barrel the ball and make hard contact consistently. He has good strength to his frame and room to tack on even more strength, while his feel for hitting should help him utilize his impressive raw power in games. Soto’s approach is advanced for his age, with scouts praising his pitching recognition and overall selectivity at the plate.
Soto shows good instincts in the outfield but is limited to a corner spot due to his below-average speed. His average arm strength makes him a cleaner fit in left field, though his bat profiles nicely at either position.”
We reached out to Soto for some comments in Spanish which we will translate for you from his comments as we congratulated him on his awards and rankings.
“Claro yo me siento muy bien”, Juan Soto dijo. “Gracias que las personas de Baseball America vieron mi trabajo y el esfuerzo que hice para lograr eso. Me sentí muy contento al ver esa noticio eso me da más motivación para seguir en mi carrera como pelotero profesional.”Translation: “Of course I feel very good,” Juan Soto said. “Thank you to the people of Baseball America [for my number 3 ranking] as they saw my work and the effort I made to achieve that. I felt very happy to see that news that gives me more motivation to continue my career as a professional player. ”
For those who are not familiar with Soto, get ready to see someone special. He is a left-handed corner outfielder and just turned 18-years-old at the end of October. We already believe he is the best bat in the Nats’ minor league system, but don’t confuse that with the best player who is Victor Robles. When general manager Mike Rizzo was recently asked about prospects on the move, Soto was one of the players Rizzo named. Soto is among many of the young Dominican top prospects in the Nationals’ system.
The fields they play on as kids in the Dominican are not always the most glamorous as you can see by this photo below. Their equipment is usually hand-me-downs gloves and well-used bats, and the baseballs they pitch and hit have stitches that are fraying. By the time they make it to the Dominican Academy, they feel like royalty as they get all new equipment and Nationals logo’d apparel.
Soto is another prospect who will arrive in Hagerstown in 2017. We will be there to watch.