Hitting in the middle of the lineup, he’s one of the stars of baseball with his ability to command the strike zone and hit for power. He’ll lead the league in on-base percentage and hit 30 homers.
For a decade, that was the description for Joey Votto. Now, it’s the formula Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto uses on his path to greatness.
“I will say I think that he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s doing,” Votto said. “People don’t realize how difficult it is to be able to manage the strike zone and still hit for power. He’s clearly feared. I’m pretty confident, he probably could go out and have a season where he’d hit 50 homers and have a sloppy sort of strike zone and certainly not get on base as much.”
Soto will receive National League MVP consideration despite playing for a last-place team. The 22-year-old leads the league in batting average (.321), on-base percentage (.466) and walks (130). He’s hit 27 homers, totaled 90 RBI and scored 104 runs.
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When Votto won MVP in 2010, he had a .324 batting average, .424 on-base percentage, 37 homers, 113 RBI and 106 runs while leading the Reds to a divisional title.
“I don’t watch him enough and I don’t like comparing players,” Votto said. “It’s kind of arrogant to compare someone that is probably better than I was at my peak. He’s doing something that a lot of people don’t understand how difficult it is to do.”
What makes it so difficult?
“He’s very nearly perfect at the plate,” Votto said. “He had a little bit of a cool stretch to start the season, but when you’re getting on base nearly half the time – the luck variable is real. You’re not always going to get hits. The ball is not always going to fall. You’re going to get tough calls against you at the plate. You’re going to have specific matchups just for you, and he just keeps winning. He just keeps winning."
Votto led the league in on-base percentage seven times. When pitchers made mistakes in the strike zone, he punished them with homers and doubles.
This will be Soto’s second season leading the league in on-base percentage. Since the All-Star break, he’s hitting .372 with a jaw-dropping .538 on-base percentage.
“I would guess, he’s still young, he’ll probably put together a perfect season," Votto said. "I said the same thing with Bryce Harper. I really don’t like going out on a limb, but I feel so good about how good Juan Soto is that I think he has a chance to have one of those perfect seasons. He’s doing outstanding. It’s fun to watch.
"The game is in such good hands. I love the diversity amongst our young players. All kinds of different countries are represented. I think it’s wonderful. Soto is certainly one of those torchbearers.”
FIRST PICK, FIRST GAME: Minor-league shortstop Matt McLain, the Reds’ first-round pick in this summer’s draft, was in town with his family to attend Thursday’s game against the Washington Nationals.
Top picks usually have an opportunity to watch a game when they sign their contracts, but McLain’s trip to Cincinnati was delayed until after the minor-league season ended.
“We did get to see the Reds Hall of Fame,” McLain said. “That was awesome. We were in there for about an hour, hour and 15 (minutes). We got to see a lot of stuff. Got to see all the World Series trophies and the broad history of the Reds.”
McLain, a 22-year-old who was picked out of UCLA, had a .273 batting average and .387 on-base percentage in 30 games at High-A Dayton. He had six doubles, three homers, 19 RBI and 15 runs. He walked (17) nearly as much as he struck out (24).
He called it a learning experience as he developed a daily routine.
“In college you don’t play every day,” McLain said. “What I need to do a night after a game, the day before a game, how to feel my body the right way and have that consistent mindset so my play can translate consistently. I think that was the biggest thing for me."
INJURY UPDATES: Tyler Naquin is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season with a rib injury he sustained when he collided with Jose Barrero on a fly ball in St. Louis.
“He’s still struggling to heal,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It hasn’t gotten much better. It was a significant injury. I don’t see him coming back for the regular season, for sure.”
Jesse Winker is eligible to return from his intercostal strain next week, but it’s still too early to tell whether he will have a chance to play again this season. In his first game back from an intercostal strain, he grimaced on a swing in the eighth inning.
“Wink is saying it’s much different at this point from when he injured it the other day compared to this point from when he originally injured it," Bell said. "It doesn’t sound like it’s nearly as bad. It doesn’t mean that he’s going to be back in the next few days or anything. I thought that was really encouraging.
“I think the plan for the next few days is to start pushing him forward, just to see exactly where he is.”