Should you ask any MLB fan who is currently the best outfielder in all of baseball, you will likely get one of several answers.
Perhaps, you will get Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Not surprising, considering he is arguably the best player in the entire sport, let alone the outfield.
Maybe, Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers will get the nod. Sure, 2020 was a little inconsistent for the power left-hander, but his defense is excellent, the home runs are explosive and he is still young enough to improve even more.
Mookie Betts, Bellinger’s teammate, could also garner a ton of votes. Maybe, even Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves or Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Another outfielder, through only three seasons in the league, is already making enough noise to, at least, garner heavy, heavy consideration of this title.
The knee-jerk reaction would say that the 22-year-old Washington National might be a future consideration, but not a current one. After all, he is younger than any of the others mentioned above. Young and raw? Definitely. Young and good enough to already be put in the conversation with the others? Now, hold your horses.
At least, one would think. While it seems outlandish, there is legitimate reason to already put his name in the category of the outfielder elite.
Although a positive COVID-19 test halted his 2020 debut, Soto still excelled once he stepped into the batter’s box. Over the course of the shortened 2020 season, Soto slashed .351/.490/.695 with 27 extra-base hits (13 home runs and 14 doubles), 39 runs scored and possessed an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.185 in only 47 games played. The batting average, in fact, was good enough to net him the National League batting title.
The excellence did not end there. Among all batters with a minimum of 150 plate appearances, Soto’s 41 walks were tied for fifth in all of baseball. His walk percentage (BB%), which looks at the percentage of walks a batter takes over their collective plate appearances, however, illustrated his excellent eye even more. His 20.9 BB% ranked first among all batters with a minimum of 150 plate appearances. His 28 strikeouts and 14.3 strikeout percentage (K%) over the course of the 2020 season further emphasized the fact that the youngster is already showing remarkable patience at the plate through the onset of his young career.
Now that Soto’s most recent success has been accounted for, let’s look at his total numbers over the course of his first three MLB seasons (2018-20).
Through his first three MLB seasons, Soto has collectively slashed .295/.415/.557 with 146 extra-base hits (69 home runs, 71 doubles and six triples), 226 runs scored and an OPS of .972 in 313 games played. Additionally, Soto has picked up 228 walks to only 259 strikeouts in 1,349 plate appearances. This compiles to a BB% of 16.9% and a K% of 19.2%, respectively. Keep in mind that Soto did this from his age 19 to 21 season.
The age bracket is more significant (and eye-popping) than it looks. Dating back to 1871, only six batters, through their first three seasons played, have hit at least 50 home runs, collected at least 200 walks, scored at least 200 runs, and possessed an OPS of at least .950: Charlie Keller (1939-41), Ted Williams (1939-41), Frank Thomas (1990-92), Albert Pujols (2001-03), Aaron Judge (2016-18) and Soto (2018-20).
While Soto’s individual numbers might rank lower than the majority of the remaining five batters, Soto’s age within those seasons makes him as close to unique as it can get.
Since 1871, only two batters between the ages of 19 and 21 (first season to third season) have hit at least 50 home runs, collected at least 200 walks, scored at least 200 runs and have picked up an OPS of at least .950: Williams and Soto.
Sure, Mike Trout is as close to a Cooperstown lock as it can get. Betts and Bellinger are excellent, as are Acuna Jr. and Yelich. No doubt about it.
They, however, have not done what Soto has done through three seasons of play at such a youthful age.
The argument of who the best outfielder is in the sport can be a wide-ranging topic. Soto, however, should become a potential answer.