Outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles are both from the Dominican Republic and both made it to the major leagues at a young age.
Soto made his debut May 20 at the age of 19. He has not looked back. Sunday was his first day off since that first week. Soto has impressed from the start, hitting .293 with 20 homers and 65 RBIs.
Watching a Soto at-bat is a good way to see a bit of his personality. Between each pitch, he sweeps the dirt around to the edges of the batter’s box with his left and right feet. He bounces and stretches and gets in his stance with the bat waving above his back shoulder.
Manager Davey Martinez likes seeing Soto’s personality come out a bit in that pre-pitch preparation, and does not believe that it is a way of disrespecting his opponent.
“For me, I think with Juan, it’s a routine,” Martinez said. “It really is. He really takes ownership of the batter’s box. And he does what we call the Soto shuffle. That’s what he’s doing. He’s getting back, he’s getting engaged for the next pitch. He’s not trying to show anybody up. When he steps in the batter’s box, that’s his (space) and he gets ready for the next pitch.”
Center fielder Victor Robles made his debut at 20 last season with the Nats on Sept. 7, 2017. He ended up hitting .250 with a double, two triples and four RBIs in 13 games and made the Nationals’ postseason roster.
Robles’ season was slowed at the start after he suffered a scary elbow injury diving for a baseball in his first week with Triple-A Syracuse. Robles has since recovered to play 15 games so far in September with the Nationals.
Nats outfielder Bryce Harper made his major league debut on April 28, 2012, at 19. Martinez said the Nationals sought out Harper earlier this year when they considered calling up Soto. Watching Soto and his Harper hair flip imitation, you can see it’s a big deal to him to play on the same team with a player such as Harper.
Martinez believes the experience that Harper has had playing in the majors at such a young age can be helpful in guiding players like Soto and Robles in those early months at the top level.
“It’s huge. I remember the first day we were talking about calling up Soto, we talked to Bryce,” Martinez said. “He understands these young kids because he was 19 when he got called up. I told him, ‘Hey, remember when you were 19 and what you went through. You could teach these guys a lot.’ You watch him and Juan and how well they get along, and Juan talks to him and he talks to Juan.
“Same thing goes with Victor. They watch. They absorb everything and they watch Harper because they get it. He’s been here since was 19 years old and he’s been successful. They want to watch him, they want to learn from him and they talk to him about what it takes to be up here at a young age and what do they need to do. Harp’s been really good with them, really good with them.”
The knowledge that Harper has from those early games is so beneficial to Soto and Robles, who are likely to be major parts of the Nats outfield for seasons to come. Now the question builds intensity as to whether or not Harper will be there, too.