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Juan Soto’s Unapologetic Intensity And Showmanship Are Captivating The Bronx And Rubbing Off On Teammates: ‘Literally Every Pitch Is Theater’ Juan Soto’s Unapologetic Intensity And Showmanship Are Captivating The Bronx And Rubbing Off On Teammates: ‘Literally Every Pitch Is Theater’

Juan Soto’s unapologetic intensity and showmanship are captivating the Bronx and rubbing off on teammates: ‘Literally every pitch is theater’

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NEW YORK — Juan Soto is predator; the pitcher, prey.

He prowls the batter’s box like a vicious jungle cat, stalking the opponent, calculating the odds, readying himself to pounce. A wayward ball evokes the trademark “Soto Shuffle,” in which the hulking slugger animalistically scrapes himself toward the mound. A well-located strike, on the other hand, elicits a nod of respect from Soto; an acknowledgment that, for a moment, he was bested.

But often, that moment is fleeting. Juan Soto is unavoidable.

The 25-year-old outfielder has enjoyed a storybook first six weeks as a New York Yankee. Acquired from the San Diego Padres in December for a quintet of players, Soto has electrified the Bronx Bombers with his contagious intensity and singular showmanship. The Yankees, coming off their worst season in three decades, are 25-13 entering play Thursday, the second-best mark in the American League. And Soto, their beloved new talisman, leads the team in almost every meaningful offensive category.

“Something is going to happen. You just don’t know when,” Yankees captain Aaron Judge said of Soto at-bats after Wednesday’s 9-4 victory over the disintegrating Houston Astros.

That night, Soto jolted Yankee Stadium into a frenzy on the very first pitch he saw. Astros rookie Spencer Arrighetti, only 14 months younger than Soto, goosed a 0-0 heater down the pipe. Soto, zeroed in from the jump as always, did not miss, promptly relocating the baseball 440 feet away. The blast, Soto’s ninth of this young season, clattered off the back wall of the visiting bullpen in left-center field.

The Yankees and their fans rose in jubilant disbelief, amazed at their good fortune — they get to witness the Juan Soto Show up close.

“You can feel the energy of the crowd. Literally every pitch is theater,” manager Aaron Boone told reporters before the game. “He doesn’t give a pitch away. Every pitch, you kind of hold your breath a little bit.”

It is Soto’s unrelenting, constant focus that has most impressed those around him. His innate ability to lay off any pitch outside the strike zone feels savant-like, but it’s the end product of a process that begins hours before he digs in against an opponent.

Multiple Yankees indicated to Yahoo Sports that the slugger’s in-game, in-box intensity is only the tip of the iceberg. Like many great hitters, Soto’s practice work is intentional, specific, vital to his success under the lights. What separates him is the sheer level of concentration. Down in the Yankees’ subterranean batting cage, sources say, the left-hander can be locked-in to the point of total silence.

Said one member of the Yankees organization: “He doesn’t have to turn it on when it always stays on.”

That ferocity has already rubbed off on his teammates. Oswaldo Cabrera, intentionally or not, unleashed a miniature Soto Shuffle after taking a pitch Wednesday. And the Yankees lineup, already a disciplined group pre-Soto, has lowered its out-of-zone chase rate by nearly 3%, one of the largest year-over-year drops in the league this season.

“It’s definitely inspiring to someone like me who’s just starting,” rookie catcher Austin Wells told Yahoo Sports. “It’s made me more aware of, like, trying to just make sure I get my pitch in a good count and not chase.”

Offered Boone, typically reluctant to over-attribute: “I do think there’s been at least a subtle movement of the needle [down the lineup] because of his presence.”

But outside the batter’s box, the 2024 Yankees also feel more … New Yorkian. The bravado, that unimpeachable confidence that irks 29 other fan bases, is back. A lot of that is because of Soto.

Since debuting as a 19-year-old with the Washington Nationals in 2018, Soto has captivated baseball fans with his patience, poise and power. He cranked World Series home runs off Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander before he could legally buy a beer. The Soto Shuffle gave him a brand, while his panache and production made him a star. Then the rebuilding Nationals, afraid to lose him for nothing in free agency, flipped him to the Padres for a cache of prospects in 2022. In San Diego, Soto’s braggadocio occasionally rubbed teammates the wrong way, but he continued to produce.

This year, the move to New York has unlocked another layer of personality. Yankee Stadium, the sport’s biggest stage, has been the perfect venue for Soto’s superiority complex. Set to hit free agency for the first time this winter, the superstar carries himself like he’s better than everyone else because, well, he is. His remarkable output only reinforces the unflappable confidence, the blustering swagger.

The Yankees hope to replicate that dynamic all the way to ring No. 28.

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