On Thursday evening, I drove to Woodbridge, Va., to see the Single-A Potomac Nationals, primarily to watch Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon's first game on his minor league rehab assignment for the purposes of this guest blog. Rendon injured his big toe by fouling a ball off his foot and has not played since April 13, leaving a mammoth hole in Washington's lineup in recent weeks.
Rendon batted third and served as the designated hitter for the P-Nats, unfortunately keeping me from seeing how his toe affected him defensively. At the plate, Rendon went 2-for-4 with a single, double, a hit-by-pitch and two long flyouts to right field in his five plate appearances. He struck the ball well each time and made hard contact twice, appeared to be seeing the opposing pitchers well and his timing seemed solid considering the layoff.
Rendon purposely did not run the bases aggressively, though the lack of opportunities for true hustle masked if this was precautionary or not. He needs a few more games to see some higher-quality breaking pitches and play some defense, but should be activated before I publish my next guest blog, likely on Monday.
However, as enjoyable as it was to see a major league superstar in that environment, I will forever remember this game as Juan Soto's breakout performance.
As mentioned in my previous column, the 19-year-old Soto is Washington's No. 2 prospect and I watched his first home run for Potomac in person last week. I scouted him several times in 2017, so I was well acquainted with his impressive skill set. That said, Soto only played 32 games last season due to injury and is two years away from legally being able to buy a beer, so I tried to keep my fiery prospect prognostications on a simmer until seeing him again this year.
Last night, Soto hit another two home runs, the first of which an absolute mammoth shot to right field that sounded like a shotgun blast off the barrel. The second one was less highlight reel, but almost equally impressive, a lazy fly ball into a summer breeze that somehow continued to carry well over the right-center field wall. Good players can hit long home runs, but the special ones are able to make what looks like a routine fly ball a 400-foot home run. Soto has a chance to be special.
As I was making my long drive home and pondering how to interestingly describe Rendon's productive evening, I could not stop replaying Soto's at-bats in my mind and watching the videos on my phone at stop lights. This feeling of excitement is what has me willing to spend much of my summer in minor league stadiums and eager to drive 327 miles roundtrip in one day (thanks Google maps). It makes the long drives and the questioning look from relatives as to why you do this all worthwhile. So for a memorable and magical evening, thank you, Juan Soto!
Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.