Juan Soto is the biggest rising star in Major League Baseball. At 20 years old, the Washington Nationals outfielder has already proved that he isn’t just an extremely talented ball player filling the media void left by former teammate Bryce Harper, but that he’s focused, an undeniable key factor in helping D.C. do what was previously thought to be impossible, make it the World Series.
Soto, whose full name is Juan José Soto Pacheo, signed with the Nats for $1.5 million in 2015, a franchise record on the international market. Originally from Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, he learned to speak English fluently as quickly as he flew the minor leagues. Known for his signature “Soto Shuffle,” a saucy, somewhat controversial dance he performs at the plate, this display shows off more than his confidence level, but a genuine love for playing the game.
While most opposing pitchers hate the “Soto Shuffle,” Nationals fans love it. And because of the left-handed hitter’s success at such an impossibly young age, he’s earned high respect not just from his veteran teammates, but from players and coaches around the league. After he turns 21 on October 25, Soto is hoping to finally be able to drink celebratory champagne with the rest of his Nationals team, and slip a World Series ring on his finger.
Here’s what you need to know about Juan Soto….
1. Soto’s Father Is Juan’s Biggest Fan & Mentor
Before Soto could even walk Juan Soto Sr. brought his son to Estadio Quisqueya, where the Licey Tigers played baseball in the Dominican Republic. His father would bring a bottle and a blanket, and together they soaked in the atmosphere. Soto Sr. played catcher in a Santo Domingo local men’s league, and would toss a ball with his young son until his arm became too sore to throw.
When Soto started playing the sport himself, the passion for the game was already there, but there was one major problem, he was always too young and too advanced for his assigned team. Now, that problem belongs to MLB pitcher who has to face Soto as he takes the plate.
“It’s like I always told him — when you get into the batter’s box to hit, you own that space,” Juan Sr., said in Spanish, over a phone conversation with ESPN. “Nobody can intimidate you. On the contrary, those guys [the pitchers] are the ones who should be afraid of you. And you have to show them why.”
2. Soto Had a Rough Start Early On His Career Due to Injuries
After Soto signed with Nationals in 2015, he played in just 83 games prior to 2018, and was permanently sidelined after fracturing his ankle and needing surgery in his left hand. Soto then returned to the Dominican Republic to heal and recover.
However, Soto returned to the States better than ever. He was promoted to the high-A Potomac Nationals after a mere 16 games with the Nationals’ low-A affiliate, and after 15 games with them, was promoted to the Harrisburg Senators. He spent a total of 9 days playing with the Nationals Class AA affiliate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, before Washington’s General Manager Mike Rizzo called up him to play in May 2018, a month before Soto’s 20th birthday.
“It was really crazy,” Soto told The Washington Post. “I just never thought this would happen.” The 19-year-old wasn’t expected to be called up for at least another season, but after Adam Eaton, Victor Robles, and Howie Kendrick hit the injured list, the Nationals line-up was depleted, and Soto was their man.
3. Soto Homered During His First Career Start With the Washington Nationals
In a moment that seemed to come straight out a movie, during Soto’s first ever career start on May 21, 2018, he crushed the first pitch, a fastball, 442 feet over the left center wall at Nationals Park. He became the first teenager to hit a homer in the MLB since Harper in 2012, and best of all, his entire family was sitting in the stands when it happened.
Soto’s family, which includes his father, mother, younger brother Elian, and elder sister, Natali. “It was really special having my family out there,” Soto told MLB.com. “For me, every time I go to the plate or go to the field, and you know family is out there, I want to give him my 100 percent every time I go out there and try to make it fun.”
Soto finished his rookie season with 22 home runs, 70 RBIs, 77 runs, 79 walks, and a .292 batting average over the course of 116 games.
4. His Mother Belkis Pacheco’s Cooking Is Credited for Getting the Nationals to the World Series
The outfielder’s family was in town before the Washington took on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wildcard Game on October 2, 2019, Soto told reporters he ate his favorite meal, pastelón de plátano maduro, which is ribs and plantain lasagna, specially cooked by Mrs. Soto herself.
In the win-or-go home game, which pre-empted the teams historical run to the World Series, in which the beat the first place Los Angeles Dodgers before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0, it was Soto’s big play that kept his team in the post-season fight.
Washington was down to Milwaukee 3-1 until the eighth inning. With the bases loaded, Soto took to the plate and with a huge single to right field, the score suddenly flipped with the Nationals up 4-3, and walked away with the Curly W. During the post-game celebration, Soto’s father trampling him on the field became one the most beloved moments of the night.
“They give me the love I need,” Soto said of his family to NBC Sports. “If I”m good, if I’m bad, they always been right there for me. They are everything.”
His mother, who works as an accountant, while Juan Soto Sr., works as a salesman headed back to the Dominican Republic after this pivotal game to return to work. But fans can expect his family to be back in the stands during the World Series games.
5. Soto Is the Second Youngest Player Ever to Hit a Home Run in the World Series
During the Nationals first ever World Series game, and their first ever World Series game win, Soto hit a monster homer against Astro’s star pitcher Garret Cole, a 417-foot shot which left the baseball sitting over the train tracks at Minute Maid Park. Afterward, even the opposing team couldn’t help but give props to Soto.
“He was the key guy we couldn’t control tonight,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said. “His bat-speed is electric… He’s calm in the moment. Clearly, this is not too big a stage for him. He was the difference in the game. He’s got that ‘it’ factor. He’s got fast hands. He’s got no fear.”
Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, who’s long been speaking praise for Soto said after their Game 1 of the World Series, “He can make adjustments with the best of ’em, and he’s a big reason why we were able to win tonight.”