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Juan Soto Continues Slow Start In San Diego

Many Padres fans thought Juan Soto would be on pace for greatness in San Diego. So far, those same fans might feel disappointed.

OF Juan Soto is one of the biggest stars in Major League Baseball, but he has not played like his best self since a trade last summer. The San Diego Padres gave away two top prospects, and two young promising MLB talents, to acquire Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals.

At the time it was regarded as one of the largest trades in MLB history that would change everything for the Padres. So far it has not panned out the way much of the Friar Faithful had hoped.  Many still expect him to return to MVP form, but the early returns in 2023 fall short of that goal.

Here is a look at what Soto has lived up to in the past, and what he’s done for the Padres so far.

Soto’s Heyday in Washington

At just 19 years old, Soto made his Major League debut. He had one of the quickest climbs to stardom we’ve seen from a player so young.  Before his call up, Soto played a grand total of eight games at AA and completely skipped over AAA.

In his rookie year in 2018, he had a slash line of .292/.406/.517 including 22 home runs, 70 RBIs, and 77 runs. Not to mention finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting behind OF Ronald Acuña. Soto had a rookie year that turned heads across the league.

His next three years for the Nationals (2019-2021) were nothing short of amazing. In 1198 at-bats, he hit .304/.440/.561 for an OPS of 1.001. He also racked up 76 home runs, 242 RBIs, and 260 runs. He won two Silver Slugger awards, made an All-Star appearance, and finished top 10 in MVP voting all three years.

You also can’t mention his time in Washington without the 2019 World Series. On the biggest stage, Juan had a batting average of .333, with three home runs, six runs, seven RBIs, and an on-base percentage of .438. In just his second season he was a main contributor to a World Series-winning team.  Soto famously hit a walk-off single off RP Josh Hader in the Wild Card Game that year.

It was about this time we started to see comparisons to Soto and the legendary OF Ted Williams for how well they both see the ball. This is not a comparison most players get by the time they are 21 years old, to say the least.

The Downturn of the Nationals

Of course, with the depletion of the Nationals since then, the writing was on the wall that Soto would not stay much longer, either.  After the departure of 3B Anthony Rendon and the trade of SP Max Scherzer and SS Trea Turner, the Nats quickly looked like a shell of the team that won it all. They haven’t had a winning season since their title year of 2019, and they finished dead last in a year ago.

Soto played 101 games in a Nationals uniform in 2022. These 101 games would actually be the worst we ever saw from Soto in Washington. He hit “just” .246/.408/.485 with an OPS of .894, which is crazy because those numbers are still very good.

On August 2, 2022, Washington traded Soto for prospects OF James Wood, OF Robert Hassell, and SP Jarlin Susana, as well as young MLB talents SS CJ Abrams and SP McKenzie Gore and veteran 1B Luke Voit. The Padres also acquired 1B Josh Bell.

Soto’s Start In San Diego

Soto made his Padres debut on August 4, going 1-for-3, scoring a run, and drawing two walks. It was a performance that provided what Padres fans hoped to see for the next two and a half years.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case so far. In 2022 the Padres made it all the way to the NLCS, but I would be reluctant to say it was because of Soto’s production.

He finished out the 2022 regular season playing in 52 games for the Padres. He slashed .236/.388/.390 with six home runs, 16 RBIs, and 31 runs. Those are not bad numbers, but nowhere close to what Soto is capable of. In 46 postseason at-bats in 2022, he still disappointed, hitting just .239/.314/.417.

But adjusting to a new ballpark and atmosphere could take time, so who can really blame him? The trade to the West Coast was the first time Soto changed organizations, and it came with the pressure of bringing the first title to San Diego.

Where He Stands Now

In 2023, Soto opened as the biggest favorite to win the NL MVP among bettors at +550 with Mookie Betts behind him at +900.

Even though we are only 12 games into the season, those who put money on Soto might not be very happy. In 53 plate appearances, he has slashed .190/.358/.381. Those numbers certainly don’t scream MVP early on in the season.

Depending on the season he has in 2023, it puts question marks on what kind of extension the Padres would offer Soto. Just last year Juan reportedly denied a contract from the Nats that would have lasted 15 years and paid him $440 million.

It’s hard seeing him still make that much money if his level of play does not start to improve.  Soto is still drawing plenty of walks, but he must rediscover his ability to get hits.  Only two years ago he hit .313, and that kind of skill does not disappear overnight.

All statistics are through Tuesday, April 11.

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