Juan Soto was made for today's spotlight.
The Washington Nationals star outfielder first captivated (or enraged, depending on your point of view) baseball with his trademark Soto Shuffle -- a tic that serves to emphasize his duel against the opposing pitcher. He turned 21 during the most recent World Series, when he mimicked the Houston Astros' Game 6 home run histrionics on his way to MVP honors. He is synonymous with a young Latino generation that continues to be unencumbered by the game's unwritten rules.
Is it a show? You bet. But Soto's credentials, including his recent NL batting crown, demonstrate that he's also about substance.
With both the baseball postseason and Hispanic Heritage Month underway, ESPN found the timing ideal to tackle one of the bigger debates among one section of baseball's fandom: Which of today's superstar candidates is most worthy of being labeled the current Face of Latino Baseball?
Our friends at ESPN Deportes and FiveThirtyEight devised a formula -- which is explained here -- using on-field performance, social media popularity, feedback from 30 ESPN analysts and fan votes to get to the answer. The results produced a ballot that stands at four candidates: Soto, the Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. from Venezuela, Puerto Rico's Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, and Dominican shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres. All are young, charismatic and popular and have enough accomplishments in their short careers to be considered for the honor.
Each day this week, we will present the case for each of the four superstars, with our winner to be revealed Friday. We started Monday with Acuna, followed Tuesday by Lindor and Wednesday with Tatis. Next up is Soto, the brash young Dominican champion whose best work isn't limited to the biggest stages.
Soto homered in his first at-bat in the majors in 2018, then followed that up with three seasons that couldn't have gone much better.
Despite testing positive for COVID-19 early on in 2020 and then missing out on the postseason, Soto nevertheless wrapped up a season in which he became the youngest NL batting champion ever. Aside from hitting .351 in 47 games, he also led the majors in on-base percentage (.490), slugging percentage (.695) and OPS (1.185). He was walked intentionally 12 times, which also led baseball.
His heroics from the 2019 postseason -- his first -- are equally notable, with five home runs, 14 RBIs and a .277 batting average in 17 games. He stepped it up a notch in the World Series against the Astros, smashing three homers and driving in seven runs while batting .333. In the decisive game, Soto drove in an insurance run in the eighth inning to make it 4-2 and help the Nationals complete their fifth elimination-game rally of the 2019 postseason.
Soto's social media activity and interaction is relatively low. That's especially true on Instagram, where his 383,000 followers are the fewest among the four candidates. Prominent in his Instagram bio are the words "NO FACEBOOK," which might offer clues about his feelings on social media.
He has, however, posted 20 times on Instagram this year. And posts with content tied to the Nationals' 2019 World Series championship tend to light up the internet.
If anyone earned the spotlight based on performance, it's World Series MVP Soto.
A memorable championship did wonders for Soto's popularity. His worldwide Google search traffic index in the wake of the Nationals' Game 7 victory surged to 103.1.
Soto received four first-place votes among our panel of ESPN experts and just 11 top-three selections, the lowest among the four finalists. He appeared on 22 of the 30 ballots.
His standing could be considered a surprise given the team and individual achievements he has collected at such a young age, but it might just be a matter of time before Soto starts turning heads.
"In my many, many, many, many years of covering baseball, I have never seen what he did at the World Series at only 20 years old," said ESPN's Marly Rivera, who cast one of the first-place votes in support of Soto. "As you well know, he turned 21, and he pretty much carried the Washington Nationals onto a world championship."
Special category: Fan vote
Between Aug. 26 and Aug. 28, you, the fans, had a hand in deciding who should be the Latino Face of Baseball through four tightly contested polls.
Soto came in third across the board in all four polls, with 15% of the ESPN Béisbol vote, 19.3% in ESPN Deportes, 16.3% in ESPN México, and 14.3% in SC Español.