The Yankees' Juan Soto celebrates after hitting a home run...

The Yankees' Juan Soto celebrates after hitting a home run in the fourth inning of a spring game in Tampa. Credit: AP/Charlie Neibergall

TAMPA, Fla. — The superlatives flowed freely in Yankees Universe regarding Juan Soto, a nonstop spigot almost from the time the club secured the young outfielder in early December.

“A transformational bat,” general manager Brian Cashman said shortly after the trade with San Diego became official.

Aaron Judge, expected to form one of the game’s best (if not the best) 2-3 batting order tandems with Soto, repeatedly called him “a generational talent.”

Added reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole:  “Just a magnificent hitter. Best feel for the strike zone that I’ve ever come across.”

All of the above words were spoken even before Soto put on a Yankees uniform for the first time. That  occurred Feb. 25 at Steinbrenner Field in a split-squad spring training game against the Blue Jays.  After grounding out in his first at-bat and drawing a walk his second time up, Soto clanked an opposite-field homer off the scoreboard in leftfield.

The lefthanded-hitting Soto seemed to effortlessly serve Trevor Richards’ 1-and-0 fastball, which came in slightly high and on the outer part of the plate, an estimated 428 feet, with the ball leaving his bat at a tick over 110 mph.

Soto’s new teammates high-fived and celebrated the blast, displaying what seemed to reflect a can-you-believe-we’ve-got-this-guy-on-our-side awe more than anything else.

As Cole  put it: “I knew I would enjoy watching him. But, like, I love watching him. It’s a real pleasure to get to watch him. That I’m thankful for.”

Indeed, a Yankees offseason that was almost entirely about adding Soto to a lineup desperately needing a jolt begat a spring training in which he continued to command the spotlight. And he seemed very comfortable there, not a surprise given that he helped lead the Nationals to a championship in 2019 just days after turning 21. 

Juan Soto in 2023  

  • 97 runs
  • 156 hits
  • 32 doubles
  • 35 home runs
  • 109 RBIs
  • 12 stolen bases
  • .275 batting average
  • .410 On base %

Soto joins a club looking to put, using Cashman’s oft-repeated description, the “disaster” that was the 2023 season behind it. The Yankees went 82-80 and missed the playoffs, and the trickle-down effect of a year that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner called “unacceptable” was felt throughout the organization.

It certainly did in terms of roster-building. The Yankees made diversifying their lineup a priority rather than merely paying it lip service, as they had in so many recent offseasons. When the Padres made Soto available, it made too much sense for the Yankees to get him for it not to happen.

Soto, already a three-time All-Star, wasn’t their only move of significance. They also added Alex Verdugo, another lefthanded hitter,  to start in leftfield. Trent Grisham, a standout defender and yet another lefthanded hitter, will serve an important reserve role after being included in the Soto deal.

“Don’t sleep on Grisham,” Cashman said of the reserve’s potential importance.

Marcus Stroman gave the club a needed rotation upgrade and lefties Caleb Ferguson and Victor Gonzalez should help assure the Yankees of again having one of the top bullpens in the game.

This will be Soto's final season under team control before he enters free agency (his agent, Scott Boras, almost always takes his clients into the market, so fans shouldn’t waste time dreaming of an in-season extension).

The Yankees’ fortunes in 2024, and ultimately how successful they’ll be in putting the nightmare that was 2023 behind them, won’t be solely about Soto, though.

How the rotation performs in the absence of Cole, who will miss at least the first two months with elbow inflammation, will be a key. It very well could bury the club if the answer is an overwhelming negative.

But even if the rotation somehow excels in that circumstance, it’s hard to envision the Yankees being a World Series contender without a strong season from Soto. And that is the kind of pressure a star of Soto’s magnitude welcomes.

This, after all, is a player who, during his first  news conference of spring training on Feb. 19, sported a T-shirt touting “The Generational Juan Soto.”

If that didn’t tantalize fans enough, Soto came out swinging and ended that way.

“Juan, you feel like he’s going to kill the ball every time,” Aaron Boone said.

Soto, who with the Padres furthered his status as one of the sport’s biggest stars, also burnished his reputation as one of its hardest workers with a burning desire to win. To be in the spotlight, yes, and own it. But he's also willing to put in the work.

“You see the lineup, you see our bullpen, starters, everything,” Soto said. “We have everything that we need. The talent, the organization we are, it’s amazing. It’s incredible. And we’re more than excited about this season.”


Staying healthy is always priority No. 1 for teams and at least for the first two months of the season, the Yankees lost a player they can’t afford to lose in Gerrit Cole. Then DJ LeMahieu went down with a foot injury that could have him start the season on the injured list and Aaron Judge missed time in spring training with an abdominal injury. All are over the age of 30, and the Yankees have a few players in that category whom they need to have bounce-back seasons, including Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton. The roster has been significantly upgraded over last year’s, especially on offense. Juan Soto and Judge batting 2-3 all season should be something.

Record: 91-71, second in the AL East and wild-card berth

Erik Boland has covered the Yankees for Newsday since 2009.

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