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Mike Soroka is the Braves’ best pitching prospect and he is nearly ready for his debut

The Braves’ farm system is loaded with really good pitchers. The best of the bunch could be in Atlanta soon.

MLB: Atlanta Braves-Media Day Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Braves fans were rather excited. Sure, they were excited to see Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and the rest of the team put a thumping on the Phillies to secure another series win. However, the source of this particular excitement was due to the fact that Mike Soroka, arguably the best pitching prospect in the Braves’ farm system, had been pulled from his start at Gwinnett. There was wide speculation that Soroka could be making his Major League debut, if Julio Teheran’s bullpen didn’t go well due to shoulder issues.

Well, Soroka wasn’t called up, but for good reason: Teheran’s bullpen (along with that of Anibal Sanchez’ for that matter) went well and both pitchers appear to be healthy enough to make their starts this week. While no one wishes for injury, the idea of having Soroka in the major leagues certainly gets the blood pumping. Here is what has so many people so excited.

Pitchability

The term “pitchability” has gotten a bit of a bad rap recently as it implies that a guy can throw a lot of different pitches consistently although they may not be “plus” offerings and that they get away with just having more tools on their tool belt. That isn’t the case with Soroka (more on that in a bit). Soroka has an impressive arsenal at his disposal. Soroka features a two-seam fastball as his go-to pitch that is functionally a sinker. The pitch generally sits around 92-93, but there are reports from Spring Training that he touched 96-97 mph with the pitch in shorter stints, and he changes speeds frequently with it. Even when the pitch isn’t getting swings and misses, it is extremely effective at generating ground balls. He also has a four-seam fastball that is more of a mid-90’s pitch that pairs well with an emerging changeup that many have called a “game-changer” for him this season. The changeup is particularly helpful against lefties that may try to sit on his fastball.

His most intriguing pitch is his breaking ball, which generally gets two planes of movement,but is consistently inconsistent, and I mean that in the best possible way. Sometimes it is kind of slurvy, sometimes it looks like a knuckle curve, and others it looks like a power slider. In truth, once Soroka starts throwing the pitch, he figures out how it is coming out of his hand and adjusts according in terms of how he is going to throw it and when. This “consistent inconsistency” makes the pitch unpredictable for hitters and has proven to be a potent weapon for him, getting a lot of awkward swings and called strikes. Most importantly, he can throw all of his pitches for strikes and does so far more often than not.

Command and control

Among the top pitching prospects in baseball, Soroka may have the best command and control of any of them (with a nod to Mitch Keller as a guy who deserves love in this conversation as well). The distinction between command and control gets hazy in baseball conversations with command being where a pitcher puts pitches where he wants them to go and control being the ability to throw strikes. While a pitcher can absolutely be better at one or the other, in Soroka’s case, he has both. Soroka does pound the strike zone, but uses the movement on his breaking ball and two-seamer to really work the bottom of the strike zone in a variety of ways.

However, one thing that Soroka has really improved upon is upping his command game as he uses his reputation as a strike-thrower when he gets in favorable counts. He will bury a breaking ball or sinker to get strikeouts and throw his changeup out of the zone to get grounders off the end of the bat because batters are off balance against him. With his ability to throw any of his pitches for strikes, it has allowed for his command to play up as batters try to develop a plan for him.

“Stuff”

One of the knocks against Soroka has been a perceived lack of good “stuff” in that he doesn’t throw 98+ or have the highlight reel breaking ball featured by some other prospects. That has always felt like lazy analysis and doesn’t hold up in Soroka’s case. Throughout his minor league career, teammates and scouts alike have marveled at the subtle movement he gets at will on all of his pitches. His breaking ball, again, is “consistently inconsistent” and gets two planes of movement which makes it incredibly difficult for hitters to recognize and handle. His two-seamer/sinker has some run away from righties and the bottom really drops out of it when it is really on.

To put this another way, just go back and watch some of Soroka’s starts from the past year and a half and look at the swings and misses he gets. Sure, sometimes it just a matter of changing speeds that gets them, but a lot of the time the batter is completely fooled as to what he was even swinging at and where it was going. They are the kinds of swings that those big fastballs and breaking balls get but with the ability to throw strikes attached.

Mental make-up

One of the more consistent bits of praise that Soroka has gotten during his time in the minors has been about his mental make-up and work ethic. For starters, no one will ever outwork the guy. There is a story that has been circulated for a while since his time in Rome where he threw a great game during Rome’s playoff run that year in the second round of the playoffs. Immediately after the game, where did Soroka go? To celebrate or get some deserved rest for the championship series? Nope, he headed straight to the gym that night to get another workout in. The guy is serious about maintaining his body and staying in top shape and gets up early and stays late to do it.

The mental part of his game despite his age has really stood out as well. He is outstanding at reading hitters during each at-bat, sequencing his pitches, making adjustments both between starts and during games, and executing his game plan after preparation. He has been lauded for his maturity despite being 20 years old at the time of this writing and prepares extremely well and is extremely coachable. The easiest way to explain this is to have you look at this interview I did with Mike in July of last year. He was 19 when we conducted that interview and it was an incredibly candid look into what drives him and how he goes about things. After talking with him a fair bit over the last few years, its easy to see why the Braves are so high on him.

Has gotten better at every level despite his age

One of the hardest things for any prospect to deal with during their development are the challenges that each level of the minors brings. In this context, what Soroka has done after each promotion has been remarkable because while there have been momentary speed bumps, overall he has actually gotten better after each promotion despite being among the youngest players in the league every season. In Rome, he posted a 3.02 ERA and batters hit .244 against him, then after being skipped a level straight to Double-A Mississippi as a teenager he posted a 2.75 ERA and batters hit .233 against him. This year? He has posted a 1.99 ERA and batters are hitting just .207 against him in his five starts this season.

It isn’t just the basic numbers that have improved. The strikeout rates have increased, the stuff has gotten better and better, he has gone longer into games, and he has done so without compromising his innate ability to not give up walks and limit home runs. Doing that on what has been a very accelerated player development path is, frankly, impressive.

He’ll be in Atlanta sooner rather than later

While some are disappointed that he wasn’t promoted yesterday, I would wager that Mike Soroka will be a member of the Braves’ rotation sooner rather than later. There is no question that he has been on the very fast track to the major leagues, but all the guy has done is impress (almost) everyone that sees him pitch and work. Braves manager Brian Snitker pretty clearly wanted to stash him in his luggage in Spring Training rather than send him back to minor league camp. His performance in an admittedly small sample size in Triple-A has done nothing to temper that excitement as he has made the far more experience/seasoned competition look easy.

Whenever he gets the call (whether its this week or this summer), Soroka has the look of a pitcher that is going to be a very good major league pitcher for a long time. His 6’5” sturdy frame and track record has shown that he can eat innings while holding up to the grind, and his ability to get hitters to swing at the pitches he wants them to combined with how quickly he works bodes well for his efficiency and ability to stay in games for a while. You would be hard pressed to find folks that don’t think he isn’t one of the top five starters in the Braves organization right now. Whenever he gets the call, he will be ready to go and a lot of fun to watch.

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