The Yankees could get an even better version of their 25-year-old Hall of Fame talent in 2024

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After the Yankees acquired Juan Soto in a blockbuster trade with the San Diego Padres, a huge question arose about where Aaron Boone would slot him into their order. There were rumors that his agent, Scott Boras, had told people in San Diego that he wanted to hit third, but in New York, he’ll be hitting second ahead of Aaron Judge. It’s a perfect situation for the Yankees’ captain, who has been begging Boone to hit him third for years, but the lack of a proper co-star in the lineup made it hard to justify the decision.

What hasn’t been talked about enough, however, is the effect this could have on Juan Soto, a normally selective hitter who now will have to take aggressive swings in-zone. Pitchers will be terrified of walking Soto to face Judge, and this could play to the 25-year-old superstar’s benefit if he builds on his late-season surge last year.

Juan Soto Might Have a Better Approach in 2024

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Feb 25, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Juan Soto (22) smiles in the dugout against the Toronto Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I talked with two people I consider some of the smartest baseball fans I know about Juan Soto and his plate discipline. On the surface, the Dominican-born star has a flawless approach that results in high OBPs and walk rates, and there’s nothing that you’d want him to alter because it’s resulted in one of the best starts to a career in the history of the sport. They brought up very reasonable concerns regarding his over-selectiveness and whether that was limiting his ceiling at the plate.

As a Yankees fan, of course, I scoffed at the notion that our shiny new star could be anything other than perfect at the plate, but when looking at the numbers; they were absolutely correct. Juan Soto doesn’t have bad plate discipline, but there are instances where he doesn’t swing and misses out on an opportunity to do damage, something that even he seemed to identify over the final month of the season.

Juan Soto may have chased more and walked a little less, but the overall increase in damage output made any of those losses obsolete. It may seem odd for a future Hall of Famer to change his approach, but the results speak for themselves. After belting two home runs and driving in six runs in a game against the Oakland Athletics, Juan Soto gave quotes to the San Diego Union-Tribune about his hot streak:

“I’ve been trying to find the perfect timing, and it’s been tough, but the last couple weeks it’s been feeling like the Juan Soto I know. I’m able to hit the ball to the other way. I’m able to pull the ball wherever I want. I don’t have to worry about the inside pitches. I don’t have to worry about changeups or anything. I’m just swinging. It’s been feeling like that.”

Juan Soto
MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago White Sox
Sep 29, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Juan Soto (22) singles against the Chicago White Sox during the third inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the version of Juan Soto that the Yankees are going to need if he’s hitting second, and it might be the one that gets him paid the most amount of money as well. Everyone is aware that this is a walk year for the superstar outfielder, and we also know that he’s about to get paid. If he wants to put himself in a position to get a contract exceeding $500 million, having a career year could go a long way toward that goal, and there’s a player on the Yankees who can tell him all about the value of an incredible walk year.

READ MORE: Yankees’ starting rotation is depending on their $162 million pitcher

Yankees Have Another Walk Year Superstar On Their Hands

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Feb 25, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Juan Soto (22) and right fielder Aaron Judge (99) talk prior to the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t too long ago that Jon Heyman had us thinking that we’d lose the Yankees’ most important player, and all of it started because of what Aaron Judge accomplished in 2022. Slugging 62 home runs and having the first full season with a wRC+ north of 200 since Barry Bonds, the right-hander had one of the best seasons in modern MLB history. He also changed his approach at the plate, focusing on more pulled contact which resulted in more aggressive swings and a much higher barrel rate.

Outside of the shortened 2020 season, where Aaron Judge played just 28 games, this was by far the best-pulled flyball rate of his career. There were stretches in 2019 where he legitimately could not pull a home run, and the ability to find that pull-side power made him the best hitter in baseball. Since 2022, the former MVP has clobbered 99 home runs in just 263 games and has more dingers than anybody in the Major Leagues in that timespan despite missing a third of the season last year after crashing into the wall in right field.

The inability to pull the ball in the air didn’t stop Aaron Judge from being great, but it did hold him back from being the best player in baseball. Let’s circle back to the first conversation I mentioned earlier in the article. Juan Soto may make good swing decisions, ranking seventh among all hitters in SEAGER (min. 300 PAs), but that doesn’t mean he’s fully optimized his skillset or realized his potential. There’s plenty of growth that he can make in 2024, and the Yankees putting him in the second spot might force him to lean into the approach he adopted at the end of the season last year.

Juan Soto has been a player in his MLB career who will walk into the Hall of Fame and have an excellent career, barring injury, but who Juan Soto can become with the Yankees might be so much more.

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