Nationals Baseball: Soto comparisons

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Soto comparisons

Juan Soto is doing something few players has ever done. He's playing in the major at 19.  Here's a tweet that grabbed the names of the guys that did it since 2001 and it give you an interesting cross section of talent to look at.  There are future Hall of Famers and complete busts, but the general take away is Soto is likely to be a useful player. But just as important as what they became is when they became it. The Nats need help today and the primary question is if Soto can give them that help.  There's a small enough number here that we can actually go through all of these guys and see what they became and when they became it.  We'll skip Julio Urias and Felix Hernandez because they are pitchers.

Wilson Betemit -  Signed at 14 1/2*, worked up minors, he had 200 good PA in AA before getting a September call-up. He'd start the next season in AAA and not do great, getting slightly better the year after and the year after but still not good in full AAA seasons. Eventually though the Braves stuck him in the majors for good and at 23 he was an average player. He'd remain so for most of the rest of his career.

Jose Reyes - Had 295 AA PAs in one year, started next season in AAA, and was ok over 180 plate appearances. Then the Mets called him up was ok for half the season, then injuries and a position change helped him regress in his second year. His third year wasn't much better but he finally got a full good season under his belt at age 23, which he'd then repeat for a decade. A speed and defense call-up primarily.

BJ Upton - Was hitting very well over 120 PAs in AA and 300+ PAs in AAA. Didn't do so well in call-up so sent back down and spent all of next year in AAA hitting well but being kept down. He'd be back-up in 2006 and for good in 2007 at 22. That would be his best year though as he'd bop around the game and the diamond as an average player until 2016.

Justin Upton - crushed it in 150 High A and 300 AA PAs before getting call-up. Wouldn't go back down. He'd have his first better than average season at the plate at age 21. Never quite put it together after that as he'd have very good seasons intermixed with good ones but no prolonged stretches of greatness.

Mike Trout  - At 18 had great 370 PAs in A ball, a good 230 in High A. Followed with a great 400+ PAs in AA before being called up. Was below average that first fall, but next year at 20 was a ROY and MVP candidate and hasn't looked back since

Bryce Harper - Was merely good in 150 PAs AA at 18 and 80 PAs in AAA at 19, but called up due to need. He would immediately be pretty good. But injuries would dog him. When healthy he put up one of the best 50 seasons in baseball, but having a hard time fighting through niggling injuries and proving he's a dependable transformative player rather than a merely very good one.

Jurickson Profar - Great in 500+ A ball at bats at 18, Good in 500+ AA at bats at 19. Was pretty bad in his short stint so started next season in AAA, where he was good for 170 PAs before being called up again. Would then hurt his shoulder and miss 2014 and pretty much all of 2015. Since coming back has continued to not be very good.

So we see a couple things of note here.

On the negative side - only Bryce really was very impactful at 19, playing enough games at a high enough level to matter. Trout became what he was at 20, Justin Upton at 21,  BJ at 22, and Reyes and Betemit at 23.  That would suggest that Soto is likely not to be impactful this year. It is also possible to be a highly thought of prospect brought up at a young age and amount to nothing. 

On the neutral side - Soto has gotten a very very small  number of at bats in comparison to this group. The only other ones to have anywhere near as few in High A and higher is Bryce. Of course we don't know if that actually means anything. Bryce is the one that did fine and I don't see any correlation between time spent in the high minors and major league performance**.  I can say we have less assuredness about what Soto might be given that limited exposure, but that's all I can say.

On the positive side - none of these guys were hitting it like Soto. Now, probably that goes hand in had with the neutral point. If you only get like 30 or 60 PAs it's easier to put on an impressive show. In comparison A-Rod crushed in in AAA (over two seasons at 18 and 19) in 350 PAs.  However Soto did crush it as opposed to not crushing it

What will Juan Soto be? Chances are, given the team's belief in his ability to call him up at 19, his minor league stats, and the comparisons (here's some more) a pretty damn good player. There's bust potential but HOF potential too but that is probably the case with any group of minor leaguers if you think about it - so what are really saying? But the chances of Soto being a pretty damn good player this year are slim as even the best ever - Trout, A-Rod - didn't put up that type of season at 19.*** So expect to enjoy Juan Soto playing for the Nationals for a long time, either as a great player or a solid one, but don't expect to enjoy Juan Soto carrying the Nationals to the playoffs this year. He may help a little, but more likely he's along for whatever ride the Nats take this year****

*Against the rules. The Braves got punished for it.
**and even if I did - only 7 guys here. That's not a meaningful sample.
***Which is why we made a big deal of what Bryce did at 19 - however "merely good" it was
****If he IS good this year - then get very hyped 


Jon Quimby said...

Where can I get my jersey?

To me, the real question is if he's better at 19 than anyone else we might be able to put in left field. He's already got more dingers than Stevenson.

Jay said...

I don't think the Nats are hoping for very good to great from him. I think they are hoping for good. Defensively, he has to be better than Matt Adams. Offensively, he does have a pretty simple swing and seems to know the strike zone well. He also hit a laser last night to RF that just happened to be at someone. I say let him play.

Also, I have a question off topic. How come no one talks about the difference in the Nats schedule versus everyone else in the NL East. The schedule for the Nats has been brutal with two trips out west already. The Nats have played 33/45 games against teams with >.500 record, not counting 6 against the Dodgers. Before you say its because the NL East is better, the Nats have played more games against the NL West than against the NL East. The Braves have played the Cubs twice and Colorado. The Phillies and Mets have played a much easier schedule as well. It will all even out. The Nats need to stay as close as possible and put the pedal down when they play bad teams like the Padres. As of today, they are fine. Doesn't mean it can't go south from here, but they are far from blowing it.

Anonymous said...

Are the Cubs and Rockies bad? because they both have better records than the Nats do. It chaps my ass that the rest of the NL East got to feast on the Marlins while they were in their absolute dregs of not knowing what they're doing while the Nats didn't play them once, but you wanna be the best, you've got to win against good teams. And against the Dodgers.

Jay said...

I agree the Cubs and Rockies are pretty good. My point was that everyone else the NL East has played not so much. A West coast trip is tough on the best of teams. The Nats made both of their West coast trips in the season's first 6 weeks. Anyway, the schedule for the Nats starts to get easier this week. I'm hoping they get on a roll starting with these games against the Padres.

DezoPenguin said...

While it would be great if Soto broke out and was a star (or at least "as good as Howie Kendrick or 2012 Bryce was"), what he really needs to be to help the team is to be good *enough* on offense and defense alike that Martinez:

(a) isn't tempted to move Adams to LF and let Zim/Reynolds play 1B against a right-handed pitcher, and

(b) when Goodwin/Eaton come back eventually (...if they come back...) the debate is over whether to bench Taylor, not whether to put those guys in LF. (Though if Eaton returns this season in healthy enough condition to play CF full-time, it'll be a bit of a miracle.)

cass said...

Analytically: It's all a very small sample so I'm gonna throw up my hands on what to expect but will take the optimistic projection from Steamer with a grain of salt but not dismiss it entirely.

Otherwise? I'm gonna enjoy the heck out of this narrative of Soto bringing the Nats back to life. Last night was fun.

Remember over the offseason when we all wanted to trade Soto for Realmuto? Imagine the return he'd bring now.

Fries said...

I definitely don't like the circumstances that Soto was brought up, but you can't deny the fact that the kid can rake. We'll see how he responds to major league pitching once the book is out on him, but that'll take a few weeks and I'll be more than happy to watch him smoke liners all over the field until that time.

blovy8 said...

Yeah, this doesn't really solve their CF issue. Stevenson is no better than Taylor and noone's saying anything at all about Goodwin's rehab prospects. You can't take any predictions from Eaton as to when he'll be back very seriously either.

DezoPenguin said...

@blovy8: Yeah, essentially Soto is replacing Kendrick in LF, nothing more. His call-up is an attempt to stop from acquiring a new problem rather than solve any of the previously-existing problems we had before Saturday.

Harper said...

Jay - I looked at schedule yesterday and the Nats have not played (by record) an appreciably harder schedule than the other NL East teams. And going into yesterday 11 out of 15 NL teams had records .500 or over so assuming the Nats only played NL teams (which I think is true) you'd actually expect them to play 33 out of 45 games against the competition you note.

Short answer - don't expect it to even out

Long answer - Nats get a break over the next three weeks or so as they take on the bad-mediocre NL teams (LA, SD, SFG, MIA) and bad mediocre AL East teams (BAL, TOR). If they aren't doing well by the end of that... it's not positive because from then on the Nats don't catch any stretches like this. In comparison the Braves get this type of stretch over pretty much all of June, the Phillies get it from mid July to early August. (The Mets don't get it - they have it split into two little stretches around Jul 4th and mid August)

Anonymous said...

Harper, I don't think you should count LAD as a bad/mediocre NL team. Otherwise, I don't dispute your point about schedule strength.

Kubla said...

I'm more impressed by 1-1, 3 BB three games in than the HR.

Jay said...

I disagree on the strength of schedule. The other teams in the NL East have their schedules artificially inflated because they have been playing each other so much. I did a quick look at the schedules for the four teams. I listed it out below. I would still argue the Nats have had the more difficult schedule. It looks the Phillies have had the easiest, then the Braves, and then the Mets. Correct me if missed anything (it was a quick look at the schedule) Anyway, I think the Nats are doing well with the number of injuries they have had and with the schedule they have had. However, they do need to play well and pick up a good number of wins over the next few weeks.

Braves: 8 games against last year’s playoff teams

Cubs 3-2
Colorado 2-1

Cincinnati 2-2
TB 2-0
Miami 5-2

Did play in Colorado for 3 games. No West coast swing yet.

Philly: 3 games against last year’s playoff teams

Arizona 1-2

Miami 3-3
Cincinnati 3-0
TB 3-0

Goes to LA, SF, and Cubs end of May

NY: 6 games against last year’s playoff teams

Colorado 0-3
Arizona 3-0

Cincinnati 1-2
Miami 4-1
San Diego 2-1

Did go to StL and San Diego road trip

Washington: 17 games against last year’s playoff teams

Colorado 1-3
LA 1-5
Arizona 5-2

Cincinnati 3-0
San Diego 4-1

Two West coast swings. No more West coast trips this year.

Mark said...

Any way you look at it, three walks and a hit for Soto in his second big league game at 19 against a pitcher who gave up 1 run and six hits, one of which was to Soto, is impressive. In fact, it's not like SD pitching was wild, Soto was the only National who walked all night. Super small sample size obviously, but I would be surprised if any 19 YO has had a better first 9 PA's.

Unknown said...

I did head over to Nats Park on Monday to catch Soto’s first start and was obviously not disappointed. I ended up scalping a front row seat past the Nats’ dugout.

Interestingly, the Nats burned stadium long season ticket holders there by building out in front of them a row of MGM seats in front of them and they are still mad, as no more direct interaction or catching rolling foul balls. On top of it as this row is built downward like a dugout there is now a five foot drop if a ball player flies over chasing a foul ball. Such a bad way to treat your customers and players. Someone will get hurt there one day.

Ole PBN said...

Glad to see MAT get the game-winner last night - happy for the kid. Anyone else notice his reaction standing on second base and in the interview on the field w/ Kolko? He seems shocked/relieved. That says a lot about the level of confidence this guy has. There are players who know they have greatness in them and when they achieve it, you'll see it: fist pumps, yelling, pure joy, just an explosion of "see? I told you I'd do that." Then there are players who almost seem surprised, as if they were expecting to fail (again), and miraculously succeeded. Unfortunately, the latter was MAT last night. Some might say, so what? Or, he's just a more mellow kind of personality. Or, yeah who wouldn't feel that way being in the rut he's in? You're missing the point. Regardless of his latest slump, MAT's confidence in general is pretty low. There's a difference between being grateful to succeed and knowing you will; regardless of the final outcome. The phrase "some people hate to lose more than they love to win" comes from players who expect success, not hope for it. That is MAT's biggest problem - getting out of his own head. Really do like him and hate to see such talent go to waste; hope he figures it out.

I'm also aware that there isn't a stat on this, so this is probably the worst place on the internet to post something like that. Nothing to see here, I suppose. Just some food for thought...

Anonymous said...

Call me crazy, but I'm of the opinion that MAT's biggest problem is that he strikes out too much, and he doesn't have the patience or enough power to outweigh that enormous flaw. I don't think it has much if anything to do with his personality.

Huzzah! said...

I’m curious - I stopped playing baseball in high school and it was different at that level - but can’t something be done to stop MAT swinging at every first pitch, even if it’s a strike? Cant there be some coaching intervention? Or is that a no no in the majors?

Andrew Gentsch said...


There is something going on this year that you haven't talked about yet. The pitcher batting 8th. What do you think about this? I think it is a bad idea. The 8 spot gets more AB's than the 9th.
One commentator, on a previous post, mentioned that batting order does not matter. I know studies have been done, but I still can't wrap my mind around it.
Also, what is Fedde doing there? Don't we have 5 guys?
Also, what is up with the starting pitching order? It went from Max, Stras, Gio, Tanner, Hellickson to what it is now. What can you tell us about that?

Thanks for all of your good work. I have been reading, and enjoying, your blog since 2012.