Too good to sit

Martinez shouldn’t make habit of giv­ing Soto a day off

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

And on the 19th game, he rested. Juan Soto’s first trip to Yan­kee Sta­dium marked the first time since May 21 that he wasn’t in the Na­tion­als’ start­ing lineup. Man­ager Dave Martinez fi­nally gave Soto a day off Tues­day, al­low­ing the phe­nom to be an ob­server while soak­ing in the sto­ried ball­park and fa­bled pin­stripes.

Base­ball fans in New York likely were dis­ap­pointed, eager to see what the left-handed slug­ger might do with the right-field porch. Soto might not re­turn to the Bronx for a cou­ple of years un­less Sports Il­lus­trated’s World Series pre­dic­tion proves true.

Martinez was bound to sit him at some point, but Soto didn’t make it an easy de­ci­sion. Open­ing Day left fielder Adam Ea­ton has re­turned from the dis­abled list and will be a fac­tor mov­ing for­ward as Martinez de­cides who plays and where. But this sit­u­a­tion isn’t very com­pli­cated:

Keep Soto in the lineup. “Juan’s do­ing awe­some,” Martinez told re­porters last week when Ea­ton was ac­ti­vated. “It’s hard to send him down right now, re­ally it is. He’s hit­ting right-handed, left-handed pitch­ing, and he’s do­ing well. He’s go­ing to get an op­por­tu­nity to play. We’ll fig­ure out the rest of this stuff as the days go on.”

If Martinez fig­ures out his lineup as well as Soto has fig­ured out the strike zone, we’ll prob­a­bly see a lot less of Michael A. Tay­lor.

Tay­lor has raised his bat­ting av­er­age to .220 after an aw­ful start but con­tin­ues to flash one of base­ball’s best gloves in cen­ter. He made a spec­tac­u­lar over-the-shoul­der grab Tues­day, run­ning full speed to­ward the wall and slid­ing onto the warn­ing track.

No one on the ros­ter brings the same cal­iber of de­fense in cen­ter, not Ea­ton — who played 145 games there with the White Sox in 2015 — and not Bryce Harper — who last week played in the mid­dle for the first time since 2015 and started there on Wed­nes­day night. But if Soto con­tin­ues to look like a 10-year veteran op­posed to a 19-year-old kid, he leaves Martinez no choice but to play him. A left-handed hit­ting out­field of Harper, Ea­ton and Soto is too tempt­ing to re­sist. Soto made the case even greater by home­r­ing on Wed­nes­day.

Logic sug­gests that Soto can’t pos­si­bly be as good long-term as he’s been through 72 ma­jor­league plate ap­pear­ances. Then again, there’s no mak­ing sense of his num­bers in the mi­nors, ei­ther: a .362 bat­ting av­er­age, .434 on-base per­cent­age and .609 slug­ging per­cent­age in three years

across six leagues.

The guy knows how to make an im­pres­sion.

He home­red in his first-ever at-bat at Low A-Hagerstown this sea­son, his sec­ond game at High-A Po­tomac, and his first game at Dou­ble-A Har­ris­burg. Soto has yet to homer in Triple A, but only be­cause he skipped that level when sev­eral Nats went on the dis­abled list, ne­ces­si­tat­ing his call-up two years ahead of sched­ule.

And on the first pitch he saw in his first big-league start? Soto merely swat­ted a three­run homer to left-cen­ter field.

After­ward he claimed he was “re­ally ner­vous.” We couldn’t tell then and it’s even less-de­tectable now. If he had played enough to qual­ify, Soto would lead the Nats in bat­ting av­er­age (.328) and on-base per­cent­age (.431) and be tied with Ea­ton for the lead in on-base plus slug­ging (.972).

“He’s a spe­cial player,” Harper told re­porters after Soto’s first start. “We’ve seen that through­out the mi­nor leagues and we saw that in spring train­ing as well. So we’re all just ex­cited for him to be here and ex­cited for him to help us out and we’re su­per proud of him.”

The ques­tion isn’t whether Soto will cool off.

It’s how much and what might he ac­com­plish along the way? Ac­cord­ing to Stats by STATS, Ken Grif­fey Jr. is the only teenager in the live-ball era who recorded a .300-plus bat­ting av­er­age and .500-plus slug­ging per­cent­age through 20 ca­reer games. Soto is poised to sur­pass “The Kid” by be­com­ing the only teenager in the live ball era with a .300/.400/.500 slash line through 20 games (min­i­mum 50 plate ap­pear­ances).

Play­ers this good, this young, are ex­ceed­ingly rare, nowa­days (Harper, Mike Trout and Felix Her­nan­dez) and in the past (Grif­fey, Mickey Man­tle, Ty Cobb). Still, given that Soto’s en­tire pro ex­pe­ri­ence con­sists of just 514 at-bats, it’s way too early to anoint him as a prodigy of his­toric pro­por­tions. But he mer­its the op­por­tu­nity to be an every­day player un­til fur­ther no­tice.

I hope he en­joyed his day off. At this rate, Martinez shouldn’t give him many more.

● Deron Sny­der writes his award-win­ning col­umn for The Wash­ing­ton Times on Tues­days and Thurs­days. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @DeronSny­der.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­spite not enough at bats to qual­ify, Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als rookie out­fielder Juan Soto would lead the team in bat­ting av­er­age (.328) and on-base per­cent­age (.431) and be tied for the lead in on-base plus slug­ging (.972).

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