Sure was fun watching the Washington Nationals left fielder Juan Soto celebrate his 21sth birthday during the World Series. He was my MLB post season MVP. He did it all when it counted the most on the field and especially at the plate.
David Schoenfield article on ESPN’s website, “Why Juan Soto is on track to be baseball’s next superstar”, expressed my view of what Soto meant to the Nats in the 2019 post season. Read HERE.
Soto was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 as a 16-year-old by Washington. He did not turn 17 until of October 25th of that year. As a 17-year-old he played 45 games in the Gulf Coast League in 2016 where he had a slash line of .361/.410/.550.
The Phillies signed another international free agent out of the Dominican Republic two years after Soto signed, a middle infielder named Luis Garcia. He too was signed as a 16- year-old. Garcia did not turn 17 until October 1st of 2017. As a 17-year-old he played 43 games in the Gulf Coast League in 2018 where he had a slash line of .369/.433/.488.
The slash lines in the GCL of Soto and Garcia were similar with Garcia having a slightly higher batting average and on base percent while Soto had more power. We would all agree they had very similar numbers when they played in the GCL.
After the firstseason of Soto’s and Garcia’s minor league careers, the comparison of the two came to an abrupt end. Because of injury, Soto would only play 32 games in the minor leagues in his second season. After only 39 games to start his third season in the Nationals system, he would be playing in the MLB in 2018 and hit. 292 in 116 games. Then, in his fourth season Soto became a World Series hero for the Nationals after hitting .282 with 34 homers and 110 RBIs in 150 games as a 20-year-old during this regular season.
In Garcia’s second pro season in 2019, he went in the opposite direction from Soto. Garcia would struggle mightily in the South Atlantic League with Lakewood where he slashed only .186/.261/.255 in 427 at bats this season. His .186 batting average was dead last of the 66 players who qualified for the batting championship in the SAL league. His .516 OPS was also last in the league of those batters who qualified.
Something did not go right in Lakewood in 2019. Garcia was not the only one who struggled at the plate there. Outfielder Ben Pelletier put up solid numbers hitting .277 with Williamsport in 2018 but finished next to last in SAL batting average to Garcia hitting only .197 but he did hit 13 home runs. Outfielder Carlos De La Cruz hit only .220 for Lakewood last season after hitting .284 for the GCL Phillies in 2018. As a team Lakewood hit only .227 for the 2019 season, only one point higher than the worst team batting average in the league.
Hope springs eternal for Garcia, Pelletier and De la Cruz to bounce back in the 2020 season. We watched them all hit the ball hard in the Phillies 2019 Fall Instructs games. However, none of them might ever come close what Juan Soto has just accomplished in his short MLB career for the Washington Nationals.
Below are highlights of Garcia, Pelletier and De La Cruz from Fall Instructs.