May 26, 2018

19-Year Old Juan Soto vs. 19-Year Old Bryce Harper

May 7, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The 25-year old Bryce Harper is on a pace to hit more home runs than in any prior season. It is fun to watch and no slugger since Frank Howard has put on a power display in Washington, DC, quite like this one. But as Harper crushes balls that approach Hondo’s mythic proportions, there is a sad refrain running just beneath the surface as fans wonder whether this is a show that will be closing too soon. Are they watching the last of their favorite slugger’s feats of strength.

Do not cry for me Argentina. There is beautiful music in the bat of another 19-year old that may make it easier for Washington fans to move on with their baseball lives. I went to Woodbridge, Virginia yesterday to catch a glimpse of Juan Soto, the young phenom who plays there for the Potomac Nationals. He has been making a lot of noise recently. Is there really magic in the bat of the 28th best prospect in baseball, one who has begun the 2018 season so hot that some are saying he alone is responsible for the warm turn in the weather that has finally arrived.

Soto began the 2018 season in Hagerstown, just as he did a year ago. In 2017 Soto was off to another sizzling start, slashing .360/.427/.523 at the end of April. But in the first game of May, Soto fractured his ankle sliding into home plate and then required surgery for a hamate bone injury later that season.

Quickly in 2018 however, Soto proved that there was no need for him to repeat a level. After two weeks at Hagerstown, he had five home runs, a .486 OBP and a 1.300 OPS. He was quickly promoted to the High-A Carolina League where he picked up as if there was little difference between Carolina League and Sally League pitching. Sunday was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon for baseball and watching Juan Soto was pure delight.

In his first at bat, with two strikes, he poked a ball into right field for a single. No bit deal. Then in the third inning, after a pitching change and two runs being pushed across by the back end of the batting order, Soto came up again and sent a ball hurtling into the ether so quickly that few even saw where it went. Somewhere high over the right field fence it flew and landed well into the forest beyond.

Soto ended the day going 3-for-5, which raised his batting average for the past three weeks in the Carolina League to .388. He has six home runs in Potomac to go with his five at Hagerstown for a total of eleven. That is almost as many as someone who was playing 25 miles to the north at Nationals Park in Washington, one Bryce Harper, who has 12.

It is early in the 2018 season to make any enduring assumptions about Juan Soto. His pace will slow and he will have times when he struggles. How he reacts to those moments of doubt will say much about his character and what kind of ball player he will ultimately become. Bryce Harper had his own difficult times and it took months to get his mojo going again. But it is very interesting to compare the 19 year old Bryce Harper with the now 19-year old Juan Soto and lay the numbers side by side to see how they stack up and what might be gleaned from them.

Below are Harper’s age 19 statistics in the minor leagues, the first year after he was signed.

AB R H TB 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG OBP OPS
2011 Hagerstown 258 49 82 143 17 1 14 46 44 0.318 0.423 0.977
2011 Harrisburg 129 14 33 51 7 1 3 12 15 0.256 0.329 0.724
2011 Totals 387 63 115 194 24 2 17 58 59 0.297 0.392 0.894

Below are Juan Soto’s numbers for his age 19 season, which is just beginning. The numbers are impressive standing alone, however they do not compare easily to Harper’s because Soto was hurt for much of the 2017 season. To reach an equivalent number of atbats, the table includes minor league stats inclusive of Soto’s age 17-19 seasons.

AB R H TB 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG OBP OPS
2018 Hagerstown 59 12 22 48 5 3 5 24 14 0.373 0.489 1.3
2018 Potomac 49 15 19 42 3 1 6 15 10 0.388 0.492 1.322
Total Minors 409 73 150 251 28 8 19 89 53 0.367 0.438 1.052

What can be seen are the remarkable similarities. At age 19, Harper managed 387 minor league at bats and slashed .297/.392/894. Roughly a third of those at bats came at Double-A Harrisburg where he faced more advanced pitching than anything Soto has seen thus far. However, the numbers can be compared despite small discrepancies.  In roughly 20 additional at bats Soto has two more home runs. It is not the slight difference that is notable, but the fact that Soto has been able to even approach the levels Harper achieved. And when the other numbers are examined, Soto becomes even more remarkable.

His batting average, OBP and OPS are notably stronger than Harper’s and while the level of competition does not provide an exact match, there is enough there to assert that Soto may well develop into at least as capable a slugger as Harper and may actually become a better hitter overall. In 2018 Harper is batting only .246 and his 12 home runs come at the expense of better overall contact. Opposing teams are not pitching to him and that has affected his numbers, but the effect of working on a new launch angle with hitting coach Kevin Long may lead to more of an all-or-nothing approach by Harper.

Soto’s P-Nats manager, Tripp Keister, asserts that there is a more consistent approach being taken by his young slugger in a recently posted article on MiLB.com.  The numbers for Soto are nothing if not consistent; Soto has adjusted to each new level well and continued to learn and improve. If he continues at this pace, MLB rankings at mid season may move him closer to Victor Robles who has been considered in a class by himself in the Nationals firmament of All-star outfielders

As Washington fans are aware, even if Harper leaves, there is a potential All-Star in Victor Robles waiting to take his place. Robles is out for several months with a hyper extended elbow that will not require surgery. But it is important to note that when he returns Robles is not and never will be the same kind of player that  Harper is. Robles is an explosive, high-impact player still considered the fifth best minor league talent in baseball. But Soto, on the other hand, is much more of a slugger, long ball, hard contact player like Harper. Harper has been known for his cannon of an arm and Soto does not profile similarly. However, we got a chance to watch Soto in the outfield as well on Sunday and he took a nice route to a hard hit ball, running it down easily behind him.

The nice thing about a trip to Potomac is to examine the depth in the Nationals system and there were other impressive players to see. Telemito Agustin played in left and he hit several rockets to augment his .397 batting average. No typo there: “.397,” and he barrels up a few balls himself. And the 21-year old Agustin played well in the field although one throw sailed on him and hurt his team’s chances in the second inning. But he looked good defensively as did Tres Barrera the catcher, who blocked Wil Crowe’s curve or cutter that consistently landed in the dirt. Barrera had a double and along with Jackson Reetz, forms a nice tandem at catcher for the P-Nats.

They are a fun team to watch and there is more talent there, including infielders Jake Noll and Bryan Mejia who are off to good starts with the bat. The pitching is thin, but Crowe looked impressive after early inning struggles. By the sixth inning he looked absolutely dominant and he got the win. Other than Eric Fedde, he is the most highly regarded hurler in the Nationals system. But it is Soto that makes the trip worthwhile.

Watching a singular talent like that of Juan Soto, I have to revise earlier statements. I am glad, no ECSTATIC!, that GM Mike Rizzo did not trade the young man for J.T. Realmuto or anyone else. Soto may be that once in a generation talent, one that may challenge the memory of previous sluggers who plied their trade in Washington. So far he stacks up well against just about anyone, even a 19-year old Bryce Harper.

 

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!