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Soto continued year of torrid hitting on Japanese tour

December 3, 2018

This has been a year of adjustments on and off the field for Nationals left fielder Juan Soto, who made his big league debut in May. And those transitions didn’t stop once the season was over as Soto faced new challenges during a tour of Japan with a group of Major League players in November.

The 20-year-old left-handed slugger continued to hit homers against Japanese pitchers who rely more on guile than hard heat. And off the field, the Dominican Republic native was able to experience some new cuisine in the Far East.

“I like it a lot,” Soto said in improving English. “I liked one restaurant where you make your food.”

Atlanta Braves outfielder Robert Acuna, Jr., who beat out Soto for the National League Rookie of the Year award, was one of Soto’s teammates on the tour.

But Soto wasn’t upset.

“He did a good job, too. I am happy for him,” Soto said this past weekend while attending Winterfest at Nationals Park. “We keep being friends. Congratulations (and) that is it. No more (talk) than that.

Los Angeles infielder/outfielder and University of Virginia product Chris Taylor was another teammate of Soto’s on the trip. The Virginia Beach product’s versatility impressed Soto.

Soto, who had one of the best seasons ever for a teenage big league hitter this year, turned 20 in October.

In 116 games, Soto hit 25 doubles and 22 homers with 70 RBI. He had a .923 OPS nearly unheard of for a rookie. When Bryce Harper won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2012, he had an OPS of .817.

“He mashes fastballs,” Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long said of Soto. “He is a quick learner; he gets it. He is going to be just fine. His mechanics are sound.”

Soto realizes there will be more expectations next season.

“It is different now because everyone knows me every place I go,” Soto said of going home to the Dominican after the season. “They are very proud of me.”

The Nationals outfield should be fine even if Harper signs elsewhere as a free agent. Reports have the Philadelphia Phillies or New York Yankees as possible destinations or even staying in Washington.

Outfielders under contract for at least one more year are Veteran Adam Eaton, defensive whiz Michael A. Taylor and fellow Dominican Republic product Victor Robles are other Nationals outfielders under contract for at least next season.

Soto continues to impress Nationals manager Dave Martinez.

“He goes to Japan, not knowing anything about it, and he’s hitting moonshots,” Martinez said this past weekend. “He just adapts every day. I think he won’t change, because his approach is simple. Stay in the middle of the field. And with two strikes, just try to put the bat on the ball and put it into play. And he’s really good at it.”

After an eventful year, Soto is trying to find some down time.

“I have to rest now,” he said, with a smile. “I started working out again getting ready for next year.”

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