Juan Soto has become the undisputed face of the Washington Nationals. The problem? Soto is in the midst of the worst season of his MLB career.
The Nationals’ right fielder is struggling mightily to get on base by means of base hits. His struggles are low-lighted by hitting .214 and having difficulties keeping the ball in front of him in right field.
All that said, Washington shouldn’t be sounding the alarm on Soto. He has a roadmap out of this rut.
Juan Soto is still making contact for the Washington Nationals
No matter the way one slices it, Soto is having a bad year in comparison to his success in years past. His productivity is down across the board. He’s making weak contact, generating an underwhelming amount of offense and has essentially been a mere home run threat.
There’s a key word in said description of Soto’s struggles: “contact.” Yes, weak contact or contact that results in an out means what it means; it’s an out. On the other hand, it’s substantially better to record outs by putting the ball in play, as opposed to striking out at an alarming clip.
Soto has tallied 53 hits, compared to 46 strikeouts this season. That’s a plausible hit-to-strikeout comparison for an impact hitter like Soto. It’s also one that falls in line with his career tendencies. More often than not, he’s still forcing the defense to make a play instead of being set down.
- Juan Soto stats (2022): .214/.365/.431, 14 home runs and 31 RBIs across 248 at-bats
Furthermore, Soto is drawing a great deal of walks with teams presumably pitching around him from time to time. Maybe the Nationals changing hitting coaches in the offseason plays a role in Soto basically hitting his way on base once every five at-bats?
Kevin Long was the Nationals’ hitting coach from 2018-21, which makes for Soto’s entire MLB career entering 2022. Even if the new voice in Soto’s ear, hitting coach Darnell Coles, is playing a role in his struggles, it shouldn’t be holding him back to this degree. It’s a matter of him getting more bat on the ball.
Juan Soto’s struggles are reminiscent of Bryce Harper’s 2018 campaign
This isn’t the first time a young star had a brutal first half that was difficult to fathom. The perfect example is a former Nationals outfielder.
Harper came into his own as one of MLB’s premier position players after the 2017 season. In the ensuing season, he experienced the worst offensive stretch of his career. Harper struck out at a high clip, whiffed badly and saw his batting average dip as low as .211 in July. The silver lining? He drew a league-high 130 walks.
The backdrop of Harper’s struggles was his looming free agency, where he was expected to receive a contract in excess of $300 million. One can imagine Harper felt the heat with the combination of his individual struggles, the Nationals’ .500 play and free agency on the horizon.
- Juan Soto contract according to Spotrac: under team control through the 2024 MLB season
Washington has control of Soto through 2024, which means they still have time to hammer out a contract extension. Concurrently, the Nationals are a year removed from an enormous fire sale where they most notably traded away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber.
The many trades they pulled off made the Nationals Soto’s team. That can come with a degree of pressure, especially since he’s one of only a handful of players remaining from the 2019 World Series championship team. Plus, the Nationals are 25-47. Could Washington trade Soto if they feel they won’t be competitive in two years? By the way, Soto and Harper have the same agent, that being Scott Boras.
Juan Soto is a franchise talent for the Washington Nationals
Soto is the Nationals. He’s a franchise talent and still 23 years old. Soto has raked across his five seasons in the show. He has a smooth, line-drive swing that generates slug while maintaining a reputable eye for balls and strikes.
This is the same Soto who looked like a seasoned veteran in the 2019 MLB Playoffs. He launched home runs off Gerrit Cole (twice) and Justin Verlander in the World Series, playing an indispensable role on a championship team.
How did Harper’s 2018 campaign conclude? He got his feet beneath him in the final two months of the season, smoking base hits all over the field and driving in a then-career-high 100 runs. Harper inked a $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, later won the 2021 NL MVP and is now arguably the best left-handed hitter in the sport.
Soto is going through a severe rough patch. It just so happens to be occurring during an awful season for the Nationals on the whole. Washington has a lot to sort out. They need young players to build through and have to decide whether to trade away players on expiring contracts like Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz.
Soto’s worth to the franchise shouldn’t be among the debated topics. He has shown time and time again that he’s the real deal. Again, Soto is a 23-year-old in the fifth season of his MLB career. He was poised to have a dry spell. Soto will right the ship.