Nationals hitting coach thinks Juan Soto will be ‘one of the best’ players ever

Nats hitting coach thinks Soto will be ‘one of the best’ players ever originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Juan Soto’s ascension into an MVP candidate happened quickly. He broke into the majors at 19 years old, led his team to a World Series title at 20 and claimed his first Silver Slugger and batting title at 21. Now, going into his age-22 season, Soto is among the favorites to take home the 2021 honor of best player in the National League.

Among those least surprised about his rise to stardom is Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long. The launch-angle specialist joined MLB Network Radio on Monday and talked about what he’s seen from Soto ever since he first saw him as a prospect in Washington’s minor-league system.

“As soon as I saw Juan Soto hit, I said, ‘Wow,’” Long said. “I said, ‘This is special’ and the only time I can remember saying that about somebody was when I saw Robinson Cano. When I saw Robinson Cano for the first time, he was in Double-A. I said, ‘Wow, this guy’s gonna be special.’ And that’s kinda how I was with Juan Soto.”

With all due respect to Cano — a lock for the Hall of Fame if not for his PED-related suspensions — Soto has been even better. Here’s a look at their numbers side-by-side over each of their first three seasons.

Cano: 414 games, .314/.346/.489, .835 OPS, 48 home runs, 237 RBIs, 509 hits, 73 walks, 207 strikeouts

Soto: 313 games, .295/.415/.557, .972 OPS, 69 home runs, 217 RBIs, 328 hits, 228 walks, 259 strikeouts

Despite playing in 100 fewer games (almost exactly the number of games MLB lost to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020), Soto outpaced Cano in home runs and walks. His OPS is nearly 140 points high and, oh yeah, he turned 22 after last season ended. Cano was 22 when his MLB career began.

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Even outside the numbers, Long sees greatness in Soto.

“The other intangibles and things that he has — is he smart? Yes. Does he have work ethic? Yes. Does he wanna get better? Yes. Is he content with where he’s at? No. There’s just so many things that kinda play into him being so good at such a young age. It’s gonna be exciting to watch this guy just grow and develop. I truly think he’s gonna be one of the best players that’s ever played the game.”

Soto has a long career ahead of him. Yet the future has already arrived for this young phenom. If you ask Long, he’s just getting started.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long added to this report.