There's no doubt that the Nationals, coming off a 97-win season in 2017, have been a disappointment this season. Yes, the SportsLine Projection Model still narrowly favors them over the Braves in the NL East, but the Nats right now are playing at a meager-by-their-standards 85-win pace.
But just imagine where they'd be without Juan Soto. The 19-year-old phenom was called up in late May, and since then he's done nothing but cut a swath through the much-older pitchers of the highest level. Regard his numbers heading into Saturday's slate ...
Soto as you can see has produced at an elite level, and, again, he doesn't turn 20 years of age until late October.
So what makes him so special? Lots, obviously, but CBS Sports HQ MLB analyst Jonah Keri says it's his precocious command of the strike zone that stands out ...
"Plate discipline, batting eye, which you'd never expect to say of a 19-year-old. You could argue for raw power. I mean he's powerful and quick-twitch and all of that stuff, but that's not really it. That's part of it, but that's not really it. Look at his plate discipline."
Keri's right about that. Soto this season has drawn an unintentional walk in more than 15 percent of his plate appearances compared to an MLB average of 8.1 percent. He's also swung at pitches outside the strike zone just 24.8 percent of the time versus an MLB average of more than 30 percent. On another level, Soto has struck out in 18.7 percent of his plate appearances against an MLB average of 22.4 percent. Soto has tremendous power, which typically comes with lots of swing and miss. Soto, though, makes contact while also driving the ball. It also bears repeating that he's the youngest player in the majors this season by a wide margin (Ronald Acuna of the Braves, the second-youngest player in MLB, is almost a full year older).
While Soto is probably in for some regression when it comes to his batting average on balls in play, the skills are real. In 122 games in the minors, Soto batted a familiar-sounding .362/.434/.609 with 22 home runs and 58 walks against 66 strikeouts. To state the obvious, he authored those numbers despite being way younger than his peer group at every stop.
Soto's thrived thus far against the best pitching in the world despite, at the time of his debut, having played eight games above the Class A level. In part, it's his remarkable awareness of not only balls and strikes but also what kind of pitches he can lay into that have allowed him to set the league on fire. He looks every bit like a future and possibly current superstar.