Juan Soto will try to make history again in a HR Derby!

MLB/Nationals graphic

After last year’s success for Juan Soto, why would he not want to be in this year’s All-Star Home Run Derby? Soto got his groove back last year after the Derby. It was his first time in the HR Derby and he was obliterating moonshots including the longest recorded home run ever at 520 feet as measured by Statcast. Once the games counted again. Soto would hit 18 homers after the All-Star break with a lofty batting average of .348, an on-base percentage of .525, and a slugging percentage of .639 that put him squarely in the MVP race.

We were in the right place at the right time on Monday to break the news, hours before our tweet was confirmed by ESPN’s Hector Gomez, that Soto was going to participate in this year’s Home Run Derby in Los Angeles.

The Derby field will include Kyle Schwarber, Ronald Acuna Jr. , Pete Alonso, and Soto — just from the NL East and the legend himself, Albert Pujols will join the squad too. On the American League side is rumored to be Giancarlo Stanton, and a source has also told us that the rookie phenom Julio Rodriguez wants to do this. For Pujols, he entered his first Derby in 2003, when Soto was just 4 years old. Think about that for a moment. Some players think the Derby will mess up their swing, but not Soto.

“I really do believe it made a difference,” Soto admitted last year that the Derby helped him.

Earlier on Tuesday before the Washington Nationals game was rained out, Soto met at his locker with reporters.

“I mean, for me, it worked last year,” Soto said. “You see the second half that I had. I’m just going to try and see how it feels in there, and try to enjoy the show. At the end of the day, it was really good. It was really fun. I enjoyed it a lot, and I’m going to try to do the same thing. Being around all those stars, being a part of it, even if I don’t win, I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Soto will have a chance to really show his smile and personality to baseball fans all over the world who tune into this event. Maybe more will watch this one given that Pujols will be participating.

“I would love to see Albert hitting bombs,” Soto said. “He was amazing when he was in his first Home Run Derby, and I want to see how fun it can be. It might be his last Home Run Derby.”

You never know what will happen in the Derby. Last year, Soto beat Shohei Ohtani in the first round and wound up hitting 46 total dingers before getting eliminated in the semifinals by Alonso who would go on to win his second Derby and will try to defend it this year.

“You can tell my last couple weeks, I’ve been feeling really good at the plate,” Soto said. “I’ve been hitting the ball to where I want, hitting to the other side of the field. It’s been working for me, and I hope it keeps working the whole second half.”

Last year, former Nats hitting coach Kevin Long, was Soto’s Derby pitcher for the event. This time,  Soto has selected Jorge Mejía, his long-time hitting guru and former minor league hitting coach for the Nats’ Single-A team. They have  worked together for years in the off-season in the Dominican Republic, and often talk during the season. The interesting twist is that Mejía now works for the agency PNY Sports that represents several Nats players in the system like Jeremy De La Rosa and Israel Pineda.

“I am super excited,” Mejía told us in an exclusive interview. “We spoke about this since [Juan] was 16. Juan participating in the Home Run Derby was a dream of his.”

Mejía is right-handed, and Long pitched lefty to Soto last year, and that will hopefully be an advantage to Soto who is very familiar with Mejía’s cage work with him. This will be fun seeing these two old friends teamed up for something they talked about on a ball field in their native Dominican Republic before Soto was formerly sign by the Nats.

“I know he did it before,” Mejía continued, “but now that I’m throwing to him it’s also a dream come true for me. I’ve seen him grow up in the organization, and now that I’m on the outside looking in, I couldn’t be happier for him to see where his career takes him. Our plan is first have some fun — and,  giving good pitches to hit so he can repeat his swing easily.”

So the pitcher and batter seem to already have a strategy on how they will approach this year’s Derby.

“He was my hitting coach my first year, in rookie ball,” Soto said. “Now he’s back in the Dominican, and when I go back to the Dominican, I still hit with him and everything. So he knows a lot of me, and he knows my swing very well.”

These days, Mejía is working extensively with Soto’s brother, Elian Soto, who hopes to sign a pro contract with the Nats in the next international signing period.

For Soto, baseball is also about family, and the Soto family will be back to share another Derby with him. Last year, Soto had Nats’ teammates Schwarber, Max Scherzer, and Trea Turner with him on the field along with his dad and brother as his personal cheering committee. Unless Josh Bell is added to the All-Star roster, the only other person on the team in a Nats’ uni will be manager Dave Martinez who is a coach on the NL All-Star squad. Now Soto will be competing against Schwarber in this Derby, and Turner will be in a different uniform, and so far Scherzer has not been added to the All-Star roster. Soto said he will work on recruiting Turner back to D.C. since he is a pending free agent after the season.

If you recall, Soto and Long were both in attendance during the Dodgers’ postseason cheering on Turner and Scherzer, and now the Nats’ star will be back in that stadium to compete as a second-time All-Star. This should be fun.

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