Juan Soto surprises by roping in former Yankees foe for offseason training

Yankees slugger Juan Soto at team's spring camp in Tampa on February 20, 2024.

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The arrival of Juan Soto in pinstripes has excited many Yankee fans, and for good reason. His offensive talent is undeniable, transcending generations with jaw-dropping statistics and accolades. Even his fashion choices at Spring Training hinted at his confident persona and established reputation as a batting force.

However, it’s crucial to present a complete picture by acknowledging Juan Soto’s defensive limitations. According to FanGraphs‘ Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metric, he has accumulated a career total of minus-15 in the outfield, indicating below-average defensive performance. Last season alone, playing primarily left field for the Padres, he finished with a DRS of minus-6.

While Juan Soto’s offensive talent is unquestionably elite, his defensive performance hasn’t quite matched that level. Advanced metrics like Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) reveal some areas for improvement.

Yankees star Juan Soto at a gym.
@JuanSoto25_

Last season, Juan Soto ranked among the bottom of Major League Baseball’s outfielders with a negative nine OAA. This means, based on Statcast’s calculations, he was nine outs below average compared to a typical outfielder at his position. Furthermore, his 2022 OAA of negative-16 was the second-worst among qualified outfielders.

However, it seems the slugger recognizes this area for improvement. His agent, Scott Boras, confirmed to SNY’s Andy Martino that Juan Soto spent a significant portion of his offseason training with Gold Glove outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. in Miami, suggesting a dedicated effort to refine his defensive skills.

Who is Jackie Bradley Jr., the ex-Sox OF Juan Soto tapped for outfield training?

Yankees fans might recognize Jackie Bradley Jr., who spent eight seasons with the Red Sox. Drafted first overall in 2011, he achieved All-Star status in 2016 and played a key role in their 2018 World Series win. Bradley even clinched the American League Championship Series MVP that year with two home runs and nine RBIs across five games against the Astros.

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But it’s Bradley Jr.’s defensive prowess that’s drawing attention now. In his 11-year career, he’s amassed an impressive 78 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Even at 33, playing just 43 games for the Royals last season, he registered 4 DRS according to FanGraphs.

This defensive expertise is why he’s training with Juan Soto, who acknowledges his own defensive limitations. The Yankees are considering adjusting their outfield accordingly, possibly shifting Aaron Judge to center field, a more demanding defensive position, to accommodate Soto in right field.

Juan Soto stated upon his arrival at Yankees camp on Monday that he aimed to improve in various aspects of his game. He mentioned that his particular strength lay in charging in on the ball and handling shallow hits from the opposite side to assist his pitchers effectively.

Juan Soto, player of the New York Yankees
Yankees

Additionally, Juan Soto expressed his commitment to enhancing all facets of his defensive skills, including his throwing arm, outfield coverage, and understanding the nuances of Yankee Stadium. Adapting to the challenges presented by the right field wall was acknowledged as a unique opportunity for growth and development in his career.

Whether Bradley Jr.’s guidance and a potential new outfield configuration will translate to significant defensive improvement for Juan Soto remains to be seen. Spring training will be a crucial testing ground, and the Yankees’ ultimate decision will depend on balancing defensive needs with offensive firepower. One thing is certain: the arrival of Bradley Jr. and the potential shift in the outfield add a layer of intrigue to the Yankees’ 2024 season, leaving fans eager to witness how this defensive experiment unfolds and whether it can propel the team toward championship aspirations.

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