BALTIMORE - The firsts for a new major league player normally play out over the course of a season and beyond.
But when you are 19-year-old Juan Soto, you get all the boxes checked in the first nine days.
Soto added to his spectacular start with a 3-for-3 Tuesday night, his first three-hit game of his career, as the Nationals got by the Orioles 3-2 for their fifth consecutive win. His average is .393.
Soto also stole his first base, threw out his first batter from left field on a 7-6-2 outfield assist and was intentionally walked for the first time as a major league ballplayer. He reached base all four times. His OPS is 1.092 in 28 at-bats. His on-base percentage is a whopping .485.
“You know, what’s surprising me most is you look at him, and he doesn’t act like a 19-year-old,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “He does things really, really well.”
The greatest sign from Tuesday’s performance that Soto is unique to 19-year-olds in the big leagues is his high baseball I.Q.: Soto is reading pitchers.
In the fourth with Soto at second base, Martinez said Soto told him he observed how much time Orioles starter Dylan Bundy was taking between pitches as he prepared for the possiblity of stealing a base.
“Today, he stole third base,” Martinez said. “And we asked him: ‘What made you go?’ And he said: ‘I was sitting there and I was timing him, timing him, timing him, and he did the same thing over and over again. And I said, OK, I can do this.’ And he ran. What 19-year-old you know does that? Applies it and goes with it?”
Another 19-year-old who made a big impression when he arrived in the bigs was Soto’s teammate, 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper. Harper homered on the third pitch of the game and singled twice, finishing 3-for-5. Harper is one player who can understand what it is like to be so “on” in your first few weeks as a major leaguer.
“He’s been great. Keeping his head down and playing ball,” Harper said. “It’s a lot of fun to have him, a lot of fun to see him doing well. Just keep having fun and playing the game the right way. He keeps going. He keeps doing his job. Keeping his head down and playing well for us. That’s all we can ask.”
Of course, Soto is also the ultimate insurance plan in case Harper leaves at the end of this season. But the Nats aren’t worrying about that scenario right now. They would love to find a way to keep Harper. So many pundits dream about Harper moving on to some other team for 2019?
But imagine if he stays and Soto joins Harper, alongside Victor Robles sometime soon too, to form a Nationals super outfield a few seasons down the line?
“He’s done well,” said Martinez. “All I can say is he’s done well, and he’s going to get a chance to play every day. He’s proved that he can do it. We love having him.”