David Ortiz praises Nationals star Juan Soto: ‘He’s seven years ahead of me’

For my money, the most impressive young hitter in the game today is Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. The 21-year-old is a .287/.403/.535 career hitter with 56 home runs in two MLB seasons. His 187 walks are the most ever for a player through his age-20 season, and his 1.24 K/BB ratio is the lowest for a player with at least 1,000 plate appearances through his age-20 season since Hall of Famer Al Kaline in the 1950s.

Soto was outstanding during Washington’s World Series run last year, hitting .277/.373/.554 in the postseason and .333/.438/.741 with three home runs in the World Series. He clubbed a monstrous go-ahead home run off Justin Verlander in Game 6 that landed more than halfway up the second deck in right field at Minute Maid Park. To the action footage:

That home run — Soto’s entire postseason, really — impressed another prodigious left-handed slugger from the Dominican Republic: David Ortiz. Ortiz showered Soto with praise during a recent interview. Here’s the transcript:

“This kid, last year in the playoffs, in the World Series, he was facing Verlander — I’m right there in the studio narrating and watching everything with Fox, we have a screen there with which we can even see the acne — I’m noticing the body language of this kid, a (21) years old kid. At this point Verlander threw a high fastball that was king of high, then the catcher starts arguing with the umpire because you know Verlander likes to throw the ball in the high zone …

And during this argument Soto got in and he said, ‘Tell him to throw it a bit lower and I’ll show him where’s the strike zone’ … Believe me, I was watching all of that. Then Verlander threw the pitch he was asking for and Soto almost got the ball way out of the stadium. In my language, as a guy who played baseball professionally for 20 years … I learned that confidence this kid already has at 21 years old, I got that confidence at about 28 years old. He’s seven years ahead of me.”

Ortiz, as a reminder, spent his age-20 season in High Class-A, where he hit .322/.390/.511 with 18 home runs in 129 games. He hit .301/.380/.603 with 41 homers in 150 games in his age-28 season, his second season with the Red Sox. Soto hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 homers in 150 games in the big leagues in his age-20 season, so yes, he’s already where Ortiz was at 28. Goodness.

Only four players in history batted at least 1,000 times through their age-20 season and posted an OPS at least 40 percent better than the league average: Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Ty Cobb, and Soto. Three inner-circle Hall of Famers and a precocious present day slugger who, if you didn’t know any better, would make you think he was a 10-year vet given the quality of his at-bats.

Big Papi’s praise carries a lot of weight — that man knows plenty about confidence and hitting — and it is entirely warranted. Soto is as special as any young hitter to come along in a very long time.

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