Late Wednesday night, on the one-year anniversary of the Yankees re-signing Aaron Judge, the club pulled off another blockbuster. Juan Soto was about to enter his final year of arbitration prior to hitting free agency for a San Diego ballclub that aimed to trim payroll while remaining competitive. With Soto primed to earn north of $30 million this season, the possibility that he could be dealt was one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport.
At a not-inconsiderable cost, the Yankees pounced and, after an incredibly long day of “will they/won’t they,” got the deal done that puts Soto in pinstripes for a year. Since it’s official, let’s take a look at what Soto brings to New York.
First things first: This is not going to stun any baseball fan who has kept up with the game in the past few years, but Soto’s statistics at such a young age are downright cartoonish.
Just bask in the glow of all that bold black ink for a second.
Now for some specifics. First, availability is an ability, and Soto has stayed on the field. Even excluding his sterling 2019 playoff run, he’s played in 663 of 708 possible regular season games across the last five seasons, or 93.6 percent. For a Yankee club that always seems snake-bitten with injury, he’s as good a bet as any to stay healthy and anchor the lineup.
Next: the plate discipline. Oh, the plate discipline. It’s not just that Soto has led the majors in walks three times through his age-24 season, though that is incredibly impressive. He’s also walked more than he’s struck out four consecutive years. This is a man whose batting eye is unequal in the game. Last season, in 708 plate appearances, his chase rate ended in the 99th percentile while leading all of MLB in walks for the third consecutive season (132). And when Soto does swing, he tends to make contact, with his whiff and K-rates each sitting in the mid-70th percentile.
Soto also brings prodigious power to the dish for the Yankees. His 35 home runs last season were a new career-high. While that number is nothing to sneeze at, remember that a considerable number of his plate appearances end in free passes. Fewer at-bats means fewer chances to go yard.
I’ve seen Soto’s power in-person. In 2021, Denver hosted the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, and thanks to a friend I found myself with tickets to both. In his first Derby, Soto launched a 520-foot moonshot that almost landed in someone’s Smashburger at Coors Field. I’ve stood up there before Rockies games. It’s inconceivable to me that someone could hit a ball that far. But here we are.
It’s not just power, however. With the exception of a 2022 season that seems an aberration in this department, Soto has hit at least .275 in every other season, including a ridiculous .351 in the shortened 2020, which won him an NL batting crown.
The easiest way to sum up Soto’s offensive presence is likely through one statistic. His career .946 OPS is 27th all-time among qualifying hitters. The only two active players ahead of him are three-time AL MVP Mike Trout and Soto’s new teammate in the outfield, Aaron Judge.
Finally, let’s look at the approach that facilitates his success. Starting with some visual evidence, take a gander at his 2023 spray chart.
One of the first things that should jump out is Soto’s ability to hit the ball with power to the opposite field. 14 of his 35 home runs last season were to dead center or left of it. Right field at Yankee Stadium will be his friend, but he also has the power and ability to use the entire park, making opposing clubs defend the entire field.
Take this at-bat against Alex Cobb from September as an example. Cobb hung a 90-mph splitter up in the strike zone on the first pitch. Soto stayed back and drove the ball to left field. The ball left his bat at 107-mph to the opposite field, where it landed 372 feet away.
Soto will undoubtedly pummel baseballs to right center and right field, but there is space at Yankee Stadium for him to absolutely wear out the left center field gap.
There is so much more to explore in the aftermath of Soto’s arrival in New York. From whether he’ll sign an extension (almost certainly not. I’ll eat my hat if a Boras client on the verge of a half-billion dollar free agency leaves that on the table), to where he slots in to the Yankee lineup. Does he hit in front of Judge, putting a man on base for the AL Home Run King more than 40 percent of the time? Or does he hit behind Judge, affording the Captain an intimidating level of protection?
For now though, it’s worth appreciating just what the Yankees have brought to the club with their bold trade. Soto, who just turned 25 in October, brings a history of durability, unsurpassed plate discipline, and elite offensive skills to the Bronx. 2024 should be a lot of fun.