Rizzo: OF injuries fast-tracked Juan Soto to big leagues

Chris Lingebach
July 13, 2018 - 6:08 pm

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Had Juan Soto been called up at the start of the season, there's little doubt he'd be joining Nationals teammates Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer and Sean Doolittle in the All-Star Game.

Through his first 48 Major League games, the 19-year-old outfielder is batting .307 with 11 doubles, nine home runs and 28 RBI, with a .952 OPS. But Soto only got called up when he did because Washington's outfield depth has been decimated by injuries.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo confirmed as much during his weekly appearance with The Sports Junkies. Specifically, Rizzo was asked, if Victor Robles had not gotten hurt at Triple-A at the start of the season, would Robles had been called up when he was.

"Probably not, guys. Let's not sugarcoat this," Rizzo said, sponsored by Burke & Herbert Bank"We went through about four left fielders before I made the call to Doug Harris, our farm director. As poor Howie Kendrick was laying on the warning track, I called our farm director and said, 'Get Soto moving this way.'

"And he said, 'What? Soto?' I said, 'Yep. Let's get him rolling this way. He's next up.' We thought all along that he was going to be a quick-to-the-big-league guy, just because of his knowledge of the strike zone and the way he handled himself with his routine and that type of thing."

Soto opened 2018 in Single-A, and after 31 games, earned a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, where he played all of eight games — going 10-for-31 for a .323 average, two home runs and 10 RBI — before his contract was selected by the Nationals.

"To answer your question," Rizzo said, "if Kendrick, Eaton and Robles didn't get hurt, we probably wouldn't have seen Soto in the big leagues at that particular time. But he was a guy that we were not afraid to push and move. Obviously his developmental curve was quicker than the norm. We had and still have high expectations for him, and he's met those expectations and more."

Rizzo says Soto plays with a "humble swagger" to him, but it's his advanced command of the strike zone that's allowed him to flourish so quickly.

"I was an advanced scout for a lot of years and my job was to kind of critique and nitpick how guys' approach at the plate can be handled," he said. "And he's a tough guy to pitch. He handles the fastball very well, in all four quadrants of it. He stays back. His bat barrel is in the strike zone for a long period of time. He's very, very balanced.

"Those guys that command the strike zone and know the strike zone very well, often times their biggest advantage is they're 2-0, and 3-1 and 2-1 in most counts, and so because of their eye, it's easier to hit when you're ahead of the count than behind the count, and he very rarely chases pitches off the plate."

"He's a very accomplished young hitter, with still some things to learn," Rizzo added. "But he's playing extremely well. Again, high expectations for him. And hats off to our international scouting department and our player development department of getting these guys ready for the big leagues quickly. He hit the ground running, didn't he? And hasn't let up yet."

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