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Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto determined to make the team this Spring... yes, he said it

SB Nation logo SB Nation 2/18/2020 Patrick Reddington
a man smiling for the camera: Screencap via MASN. Screencap via MASN.

Would it surprise you if Juan Soto was a little bit cocky at this point? He debuted in the big leagues at 19 years old, tore up opposing pitching, fought through a relatively slow start in his sophomore season, and all adjustments that teams made, and ended up putting up an impressive .282/.401/.548 line, 32 doubles, and 34 home runs in the regular season and a .333 AVG with two doubles and three home runs in the World Series (two off of Gerrit Cole and one off Justin Verlander), while helping to bring the first MLB title to the nation’s capital since 1924. So has it all gone to Soto’s head?

Davey Martinez was asked on Monday afternoon if he knew what to expect from Soto, or if he worried about what he’d see when the now-21-year-old outfielder walked into the club’s clubhouse in West Palm Beach, FL for the first time as a World Series champion.

“For me personally,” Martinez said, “just knowing who he is, and having been with him for a year and a half now, I know who he is and I know what he’s trying to do and I know he wants to be the best. He talked about getting better in the outfield, which last year he got a lot better, but he wants to be the best out there. He talks about working hard, continuing working on his two-strike approach, which he’s really good at, but he wants to get better at it. I know what to expect. The only thing I didn’t know was how high that hair was going to be, or how low, because it got up there last year, and he came nicely clean cut, and kind of nice.”

Soto’s hair may be more closely cropped than it was last time we saw him, but the humility is still there. That hasn’t changed.

In his first talk with reporters at the Nationals’ Spring Training facility yesterday, the two-year veteran talked about his mentality going into the 2020 campaign, and if he still took the old “just trying to make the team” approach that young players like him usually have, even after the success he’s experienced in his first two big league seasons.

“Right now it’s the same mentality,” Soto said.

“You’ve got to make the team. I come here to make the team. I’m going to fight for my place, I’m going to keep working hard, keep playing baseball the right way, because there are a lot of new players, a lot of new outfielders, and you don’t want to get comfortable on this team, you want to keep going. I’ve come here to play for one spot and that’s why I’m here.”

That got a laugh from his manager. “I like that he’s thinking that way,” Martinez said.

“I really do. We talk about complacency, and when he makes comments like that, I know where he’s at and that’s a good thing. With that being said, he’s going to play left field.”

Soto did, however, acknowledge that coming into this Spring Training this year it does feel a little different.

“We’re champions,” he said. “That’s the difference. Now we are the champions, now we feel better, now we feel happy to come back and show the people we can do it again.”

His focus this Spring, after he talked about improving his defense, and baserunning last year?

“I mean, same thing,” Soto said. “Same thing. We’ve got to keep working on that until the end. We’ve got to keep working on everything. This year I come to work on my swing, and my defense, running the bases, everything, because everything is going to help the team to win, so we need to work on everything.”

How tough does he anticipate repeating as champions will be? After the struggles the team went through last season, it’s hard to imagine a tougher road to a title.

“It’s tough, but I don’t think it’s going to be tougher than last year,” Soto said, “because last year was really tough, when we started really bad and then we got better, and this year we come with a new mentality, try to keep it up every time.”

Is he feeling any additional pressure now that the Nationals have lost both Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon to free agency in consecutive offseasons?

“I’ve said it before, it’s not about one player, it’s about the team,” Soto said. “You’ve got to come here and play as a team. I don’t mind. I feel really bad because those guys leave, but we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to keep playing baseball and try to win as a team.”

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