• It wasn't technically Juan Soto's debut, but his home run on the first pitch of his first MLB start echoed great moments from former players—stars and busts—in their introductions to the big leagues.
By SI.com Staff
May 22, 2018

Nationals top prospect Juan Soto didn't quite homer in his first big league at-bat (he struck out in a pinch hit appearance against the Dodgers on Sunday), but his first hit was a homer on the first pitch of his first MLB start. The 19-year-old Dominican prospect is the latest highly-touted player to make headlines in his arrival at the big leagues, but will Soto fulfill his potential or bust? Major League Baseball is littered with great moments from young players upon their arrival in "The Show." Below is a smattering of great MLB firsts from some legends, some busts, and some middling players forgotten to time.

1. Jeremy Hermida hits a grand slam in his Major League debut, 8/31/05

The Marlins first-round selection in 2002, Hermida was expected to be one of the Marlins' corner outfielders of the future. A five-tool talent with power and speed, Hermida became the first player in Major League history to hit a grand slam in his first MLB at-bat. It was probably the top highlight of Hermida's career, who would compile three relatively productive seasons in Florida from 2007–2009, but would play just 116 games for four teams between 2010–2012. His feat didn't even last long, as Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a grand slam on his first big league swing in 2006. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner

2. Daniel Nava hits a grand slam on the first MLB pitch he sees, 6/12/10    

Even the most hackneyed Hollywood screenwriter would blanch at the Daniel Nava story. After trying and failing to walk onto the baseball team at Santa Clara University, Nava became the team’s equipment manager. He left Santa Clara after two years and enrolled at a local junior college, where he became a JuCo All-American, then returned to Santa Clara on a full scholarship and hit .395 with a .494 on-base percentage and 15 steals in his one season there, earning first-team West Coast Conference status.

Undrafted out of college, Nava signed with the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League, where he hit .371 with 12 home runs in 72 games. Needing outfield depth in their farm system, the Red Sox acquired him for the princely sum of $1. He spent the next three years grinding in the minors before getting called up in June 2010 to plug holes in a Boston outfield laid low by injury. And in his first major league game—on the very first pitch the former college equipment manager and indy league nobody ever saw in MLB—he took a mighty cut and belted a grand slam against the Phillies.

Every film studio would take your script starring Daniel Nava, Scrappy Overachiever, and throw it in the garbage for being too clichéd. But it really happened, and it was only the beginning of Nava’s MLB story: He ended up spending seven years in the big leagues, even winning a World Series ring in 2013 with Boston. Sometimes truth is better than fiction. -- Jon Tayler

3. Stephen Strasburg strikes out 14 in his MLB debut, 6/8/10

No prospect in baseball history had been hyped quite like Strasburg, yet he managed to shatter the expectations of even the most optimistic fans who packed Nationals Park for his debut. On his first night in the bigs he delivered the greatest moment in the franchise’s short history, which can only be topped by a World Series title (if that ever actually happens). -- Kenny Ducey 

4. Jason Heyward homers in his first big league at-bat, 4/5/10

After hitting 17 home runs during a quick ascension through the Braves' minor league system in 2009, Jason Heyward's MLB debut was one of the most-anticipated things of the 2010 season. Destroying cars during Spring Training batting practice also helped build hype. And Heyward delivered immediately, obliterating a 93 mph low fastball from the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano into one of the Turner Field tunnels for a 476-foot, three-run dinger on just the third pitch he'd seen in the bigs on Opening Day, April 5.

Heyward put together a great rookie season with 18 homers, a 131 OPS+ and a trip to the All-Star Game. Eventually though, all those Hank Aaron and Fred McGriff comparisons would die down. Heyward parlayed a few solid seasons at the plate and excellent fielding into a mammoth contract with the Cubs, but nowadays his 6-5, 245 lbs.-frame is much less imposing with all of those groundouts. -- Lorenzo Arguello

​5. J.P. Arencibia sets total bases record in MLB debut, 8/7/10

J.P Arencibia—with his lifetime OPS+ of 80—didn't have too many great days at the plate, but his first time in a major-league uniform was one of them. Stepping in to replace an injured John Buck, he went 4-for-5 with two home runs, including one on the very first pitch he saw. And it was all downhill from there. -- Emma Baccellieri

6. Chase Utley hits a grand slam for his first big league hit, 4/24/03

Like Soto, Chase Utley’s “Welcome to the Big Leagues” moment wasn’t technically his debut, as he’d struck out in his lone at-bat on April 4, 2003. But in his next game—and his first start—on April 24, he uncorked a grand slam off Aaron Cook for his first career hit. Between Harry Kalas on the mic, Veterans Stadium in its final season and the “Everybody hits … woo hoo!” guy who was ubiquitous at the Vet, the video is like a time capsule of those Phillies teams that never made the playoffs between 1993 and 2007. But as Utley’s trademark compact swing put a 4 on the board, and then he sprinted around the bases, it was an early sign of the good times eventually to come. -- Mitch Goldich

7. Jeff Francoeur homers for first Major League hit, 7/7/05 

Ah, that cover. “The Natural.” It became something of a joke when Jeff Francoeur ultimately turned into, well, Jeff Francoeur, he of the quick wrists and thunderous swing and cannon arm and sheer incorrigibility that came to define his electrifying and maddening MLB career. The story, though, never asserted that Francoeur would become the next Roberto Clemente. It merely marveled at how hot he had been in his first seven big-league weeks at age 21 and noted some of the looming obstacles. Francoeur’s debut, on that July night, showcased the good and bad in him. Two of his first three at-bats ended in swinging strikeouts; in the one that didn’t, he saw only three pitches. But then, in his fourth at-bat, with a one-run lead and two men on base, he smacked a fly ball out just to the right of dead center. Turner Field—Turner Field!—went crazy for the hometown kid. Whatever his shortcomings, anyone who can get Braves fans off their feet is a natural indeed. -- Jack Dickey 

8. Miguel Cabrera hits a walk-off home run in his MLB debut, 6/20/03

Arguably the greatest righthanded hitter of the generation, Cabrera smashed a walk-off two-run homer in the 11th inning off of Rays reliever Al Levine to give the Marlins a 3–1 win. The Marlins were 35–39 entering the game; after Cabrera's walk-off shot, they went 56–32 to win the NL Wild Card and eventually the World Series. That World Series also featured the 20-year-old Cabrera homering off of Roger Clemens. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner

9. Kaz Matsui hits home run on first pitch he sees, goes 3-for-3 in MLB debut, 4/6/04

The thing about the Mets of the 90s and 2000s is that they always found a way to reside in the crosstown Yankees’ shadow, no matter the specific context. Mets have “the best infield ever”? The Yankees sweep the Braves in the World Series after the Braves beat the Mets in the NLCS. The Mets make the World Series? They lose to the Yankees. Sometimes, though, it felt like the Mets leaned into that little-brother thing. Before the 2003 season, the Yankees signed Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui, and he made the all-star team that year. Not to be outdone, in the next offseason, with a hole at shortstop and eventual Yankee (and childhood Met fan) Alex Rodriguez available on the trade market, the Mets signed a purported fusion of A-Rod and Hideki Matsui: Kaz Matsui, the switch-hitting pride of the Seibu Lions. He’d last just two and a half unsuccessful years in New York, on account of his less-than-advertised power and defense. But his debut, well, his debut was awesome. -- Jack Dickey

10. Nick Kingham nearly tosses a perfect game in MLB debut, 4/29/18

Nick Kingham arrived in Pittsburgh for a spot start against the Cardinals, knowing he'd probably return to Triple-A Indianapolis after his start. Sporting the Pirates' throwbacks uniforms—yellow tops, black pants and striped hats—Kingam looked like a hurler from a former era as he set down 20 consecutive Cardinals with his fastball-slider mix that kept St. Louis off-balance for an entire hazy afternoon in Pittsburgh. Better yet, Kingham's entire family was able to watch the performance—even his brother who was playing for the University of Texas against West Virginia that weekend. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner

11. Marcus Thames homers on his first big league swing ... off of Randy Johnson, 6/10/02

You know when someone uses the term “unbelievable” to describe something fairly easy to accept? Well, this was actually unbelievable. In 2002, Randy Johnson would go on to win his fourth consecutive Cy Young and lead the league in strikeouts for the eighth time, but not before giving up this homer to a 30th-round selection in 1996 who spent five seasons in the minors. Marcus Thames barely hit over the Mendoza line in Triple-A, and then went yard on his first big league swing off a Hall-of-Famer. -- Kenny Ducey

12. Mike Jacobs hits a pinch-hit three-run home run for his first Major League hit, 8/21/05

Something was off with Kris Benson on Aug. 21, 2005. He couldn’t make it out of the first inning against the Nationals—he surrendered eight hits and six runs while recording only two outs. (It was a 1 p.m. game, and when a player is so helpless on a Sunday afternoon, the crowd begins to ponder how the player in question spent his Saturday night. I was in attendance on that day; I remember the Shea Stadium DJ playing the Strokes’ “Last Nite” once Benson walked off the mound.) The Mets were in a deep hole before they even came to the plate. The deficit had increased to seven runs by the fifth inning, and when it came time for a pinch-hitter with two men on base, manager Willie Randolph must have figured, What the hell, I’ll send up the rookie for his first at-bat. Jacobs, who had homered 25 times at Double-A Binghamton that season, sent the hanging slider from Esteban Loaiza (yes, the one now facing federal drug charges) into the right-field bullpen. He would homer three times over his next three games and finish his big-league career, in 2012, with an even 100. -- Jack Dickey

13. Kosuke Fukudome goes 3-for-3 and hits a game-tying HR in ninth inning of debut, 3/31/08


Surely Cubs fans have many reasons to be thankful for their 2016 title. Somewhere high up on that list should rank this one: It rinsed away the taste of 2008, when the Dodgers swept Chicago in the NLDS. Those 2008 Cubs, at 97–64, had the best record in the National League, with the NL’s best offense and second-best run prevention. Until 2016 rolled around, the ’08 Cubs’ .602 winning percentage was the best the franchise had had since 1945. Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly each won 17 games. Mike Fontenot had a .909 OPS. Geovany Soto hit 23 homers. Even Ryan Theriot was useful! The only player who didn’t really live up to the hype that year was rookie Kosuke Fukudome, who finished the year with a punchless .257/.359/.379 batting line. That would have seemed unthinkable in late April, when SI put Fukudome on the cover. (The coverline: “It’s Gonna Happen—Kosuke Fukudome Can End the Cubs’ 100-Year Wait.) He was hitting .326/.444/.483 when the issue went to press. The story, by Lee Jenkins, mentioned that Fukudome had only one piece of art hanging on his walls in his new Chicago apartment: “a framed photograph of his Opening Day home run.” -- Jack Dickey

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