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Juan Soto Is Going to Be Great Because D.C. Sports Are Good Now

The Nationals’ 19-year-old rookie outfielder has been on a tear during his first month in the majors. Could he be the spark that the franchise needs to finally get over the hump?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Capitals have won the Stanley Cup, and nothing bad will ever happen in D.C. again. Your flight will never be routed through Gate 35X. The Metro will keep going past midnight, possibly without the intercession of foreign governments. The Greek Deli will stay open on weekends. The summer will be humid, but not so humid that the person who thwumps into you when the train brakes suddenly at Dupont Circle — sorry, they did not fix that — will feel sickly and wet. Dan Snyder will renounce his worldly possessions, and the trees by his house will regrow. LeBron James will not join the Wizards, but that will be OK because everyone, you know, understands.

And 19-year-old Juan Soto will continue at his current clip, sailing a minimum of 24 more balls into the stands of miscellaneous ballparks before the year is done, and notching 41 homers — at least — in every season thereafter. Which will be many, because — again — he is 19.

Soto has now played in just 20 games with the Nationals, a rapturous three-and-a-half-week stretch during which he, despite playing against top competition only since the middle of the NBA conference finals, has been anointed with the nickname “Childish Bambino.” In terms of fan base expectation-setting, he is at this point bordering on something Strasburgian. Soto popped a three-run homer off the Padres’ Robbie Erlin on the very first pitch he saw in his first start, on May 21. In the interim, he’s gone deep four more times, including on Wednesday, when he did it twice at Yankee Stadium.

Did I mention that he’s 19 years old? Forgive me, elder that I am, but we at the Baseball-Industrial Complex are having some trouble processing this fact. (Sports Illustrated: “Teenager hits 2 homers against Yankees”; USA Today: “Juan Soto should be in high school. He’s hitting MLB HRs instead.”) Soto, a person who is younger than 20, was born in 1998. He will not be able to rent a car until the week before the 2024 presidential election. Monica and Chandler had already hooked up by the day he was born; the original variant of Four Loko was banned when he was 12 years old. That pain on the left side of your back might be serious or it might just be the way your body will always feel from now on. I digress.

Soto’s youth and early production have earned him comparisons to the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones, as well as teammate Bryce Harper. Like Griffey and Jones, Soto hit two home runs against the Yankees as a 19-year-old; like Harper, Soto found himself doing a teenage curtain call at Nats Park after his first home run. As they watched back at the Nats academy in the Dominican Republic, his former teammates were, shall we say, just a little bit happy:

You might be thinking, “This is a categorically small sample size,” but, remember, everything in the capital is good now.

Soto was signed by Washington in 2015 for a then-club-record $1.5 million bonus after a scout stumbled across him in the Dominican Republic, back when he was still splitting his time between pitching and hitting. He is the latest promising player to come out of the Nats’ Dominican academy, which was rebuilt from the ground up after a 2009 federal probe found that a 16-year-old shortstop prospect named Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez, to whom the Nationals had given a $1.4 million signing bonus in 2006, was, in fact, a 20-year-old named Carlos Alvarez. The scout, Modesto Ulloa, was unimpressed by Soto’s pitching, but stayed for an extra game. At the plate, the outfielder went 3-for-3. “From then on,” Ulloa told The Washington Post this winter, “I never left him alone.”

Soto blazed through the minor leagues: In part because of a series of injuries, including a fractured ankle and a broken hamate bone, he made just 512 plate appearances in the minors and played in only 32 games last season. But by this May he was leading all of minor league baseball in total bases, extra-base hits, and RBIs.

For the Nationals, Soto’s is a sorely needed bat. Daniel Murphy, who contributed 5.7 and 4.4 oWAR in his first two years with Washington, had knee surgery at the end of the 2017 season and just played his first major league game of the season on Tuesday; a recent scouting report described the 33-year-old’s Double-A appearances as “gimpy” and suggested he had trouble moving both laterally and straight ahead. Fellow 33-year-old Ryan Zimmerman — who notched a 3.5 oWAR in 2017 — steadfastly refused to participate in spring training this year, batted just .217 across 33 games this spring, and has been out since May 9 with a back injury. Like Murphy, Adam Eaton is finally back from the DL but has played in just 34 games since the beginning of the 2017 season; Howie Kendrick, who held the team together during a shaky April, tore his Achilles last month.

Any team that’s topped its division in four of the past six years and is vying to do so once again could be forgiven for running low on the prospect front. And yet the Nats have somehow found themselves with a new crop of stars just as many of the stars of the previous era are declining or eyeing a train out of town. (The Silver Line goes almost all the way to Dulles now!) This is, as five minutes with any Nats broadcast will tell you, almost certainly the team’s last year with Harper, who, along with every other superstar an internet goblin has ever mentioned along with the phrase “would look great in pinstripes,” hits free agency at the end of the season.

In the meantime, the Nats have welcomed Trea Turner, a.k.a. “my darling son,” who is tied for second in stolen bases in the league with Dee Gordon, and Michael A. Taylor, a.k.a. “my sweet, beautiful boy,” who weighs about 85 pounds soaking wet and hit a gosh dang grand slam in the 2017 NLDS. Víctor Robles, the Nats’ top prospect, is just two years older than Soto; he was sidelined by an elbow injury this spring, but his dreams of sharing an outfield with his fellow Santo Domingo native are surely not very far from being realized.

On Wednesday night, Soto was described by two different teammates as “the truth”; previously, he was dubbed “the kind of kid you’d want to marry your daughter” by the Nationals’ vice president of international operations. He is, at the very least, the kid you want walking up to the plate, whether you’re riding a championship high and convinced that everything is coming up Washington, or you’re looking at the clock and wondering whether the Zimmurphy-itis can hold off from the rest of the team at least until this 2018 window closes, or whether you’re merely interested in seeing what an absolutely delightful teenager who just might be the real thing can do.