A Nationals scout’s advice to prospect Elian Soto: Don’t try to be Juan
A year earlier he grew a few centimeters, improved his physique and became a member of the Washington NationalsElian Soto received fundamental advice.
He had just finished batting practice in his native Dominican Republic in front of Nationals shortstop Modesto Ulloa. His famous older brother, now…parents gardener Juan Soto, was offering swing pointers as needed. Elian Soto was thriving as the younger brother of one of them Major League Baseballthe biggest stars. He followed his brother’s routine down to the smallest detail. But Ulloa felt compelled to remind young Soto of one thing.
“Juan is Juan and you are Elian,” Ulloa told him in Spanish. “Juan could possibly make more than enough money to help support you for the rest of your life. But one day you’ll want to set yourself apart.”
One year later, Elian Soto is finally ready to paint his own unique path in baseball. After a year committed to joining his brother’s former organization, Soto officially signed with the Nationals at the start of the International signing period 2023 last sunday
In the course of the last 13 months, Soto went from withdrawing from a reported agreement with the Foods he’s worth a modest $50,000 to receive a $225,000 bonus from Washington. The Nationals made a six-figure investment in large part because of the strides Soto made, adding muscle to his frame and improving his approach at the plate.
Soto’s changing physique (he was listed in a Nationals press release as 6-foot-1, 182 pounds) was visible to Ulloa during his visits with Soto over the past year. But the offense is where Soto made the biggest strides. Soto was not considered among the premium talents in this year’s signing class, perhaps explaining a deal that reportedly includes a $200,000 tuition bonus. At the time he took the deal last January, his lefty swing hadn’t yet developed to the point where it was easy to project even gap power to all fields. But over the past year, under the combined tutelage of Jorge Mejia and his longtime hitting coach Rafael Zapata, Soto’s hitting trajectory improved, allowing him to display more raw power at the plate.
Ulloa was impressed to see the 17-year-old Soto take his words to heart, but the young prospect’s progress was no surprise. Ulloa has known the Soto family since before the Nationals signed Juan for what was then a Nationals franchise-record bonus for a Latin American teenager. Ulloa knew the strong work ethic Soto inherited from his father, who once modeled his work around his oldest son’s baseball schedule.
Built for October: How Juan Soto’s dad laid the groundwork for his big playoff moments
Juan Mr. he had been able to devote much of his free time to helping his eldest son by avoiding office work. But the Nationals’ $1.5 million investment in Juan Soto in 2015 allowed Juan Sr. take a more hands-on approach with your young child. When the crucial final year of Elian Soto’s amateur development arrived last year, both were following a tight routine.
Elian Soto and his father spent weekdays for most of last year getting up at their home in Santo Domingo at 5 a.m. to train. They would travel together to the Dominican capital’s sprawling former athletic complex known as the Olympic Center for 90 minutes of agility, strength and leg work. Then they would drive 25 miles to Monte Plata, a small rural neighborhood about 45 minutes away, to practice baseball skills at PNY Academy. The facility is run by Mejia, a former Nationals minor league hitting coach with whom Juan Soto has worked throughout his career, and a staff of former professional players and coaches.
After three or four hours of training, the Sotos would return to Santo Domingo so Elian could spend a couple of hours lifting weights with the same trainer who did his morning exercises.
Still, Elian said in a phone call that he “tried to guide me with (Ulloa’s) words.”
“Those who follow the advice, those are the types of players I believe in,” Ulloa said in Spanish in a phone call. “(Elian) is one of them. He’s one of those kids that if you need to talk to him, he’ll look you in the eye and listen to what you’re saying. Then he wants to implement what you ask him to do.”
A big-league brother teaching him the ropes has inevitably helped, too. It’s not uncommon to see Elian, who also bats left-handed, in Instagram posts training alongside and receiving instruction from Juan, who argued that Elian went to the Nationals over the Mets last year. Even their gestures in the box (down to an occasional Soto d’Elian mix-up) are similar. Ulloa believes that Elian will surprise the teams that overlooked him.
“Not because he’s Juan Soto’s brother,” Ulloa said. “But because I’ve seen that he wants to be independent and values the hard work he has to do.”
(Top photo by Elian Soto: Maria Torres)
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