By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Mike Soroka had a pretty good feeling that his name might be called in the first round of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft, and there was some indication that the 17-year-old hurler would be selected in the late 20s.
Just before the Colorado Rockies made the 27th pick on Monday night, Soroka – and the family and friends who were with him to watch the selection process – began to get really anxious, knowing that things could quickly start to happen.
With their second pick of the night, the Rockies started to announce their selection.
When the crowd of Soroka supporters heard that a right-handed pitcher named Mike was going to be their pick, the room went nuts. They were ecstatic.
But Colorado continued, and when everyone quickly realized they had chosen Mike Nikorak, the room exhaled together.
“We knew 27 was probably the start of where my range was, and they teased us,” Soroka said. “They went on and the Rockies chose Mike Nikorak and when it came up they were a little slow. They said, ‘Mike,’ and the whole room started to lose it. Then, nope.
“It made sense obviously, because he was still out there. But it was a thrill, that’s for sure.”
After the Rockies made their selection official, the clock began its regulated between-pick countdown from four minutes and 30 seconds. The Atlanta Braves were on the clock, and while Soroka thought they might be a contender heading into the day, he hadn’t heard from them.
“We knew they were a player,” the native of Calgary, Alta., said. “We didn’t know when they might pick [me] but we knew they were one of the teams that was quite interested. The pick started to count down there and we thought they’re probably not doing this because we probably would have heard from them by now.
“I guess it was a minute or two later and we heard from them. There must have been a little lag on my computer, so it was a little behind, because I started getting [congratulatory] texts before I even saw what happened.”
Soroka was taken with the 28th pick of the draft, Atlanta’s second selection of the night, also becoming the second Canadian selected in the first round after Mississauga, Ont., native Josh Naylor was taken by the Miami Marlins 12th overall.
“The whole day was probably the longest day of my life, at least up until the draft started,” the young hurler said. “Then you get to see the picks going, but the five minutes between picks was just killing me. It was fun though, and it was definitely a wild ride.
“It was neat to see where all the other guys were going, especially in a draft like this where it was pretty wide open for the most part. But we really didn’t know up until it was right about to happen … I still don’t think it’s quite set in yet. I’m not sure I believe it.”
The team that followed the Rockies and Braves in the selection process on the first night was another potential contender who had expressed a lot of interest in the righty – the Toronto Blue Jays. Soroka might never know what could have been with the organization north of the border, but is grateful for the support they’ve shown the Canadian Junior National Team program throughout his journey.
“There were a few teams that we thought were possibilities,” he said. “Obviously there were a few things pointing to the Jays, but I don’t know what was going on in their draft room. I guess I’ll never get a chance to find out, but they’ve been tremendous in supporting Baseball Canada over the last however many years. It’s been great.”
The national team program and its coaches and staff are all at the top of the long list of people for Soroka to thank for helping him along the way, assisting him during a time when he made the biggest strides in his game.
“It’s a really long list of people and names who have helped me to get to where I am today, especially most of the coaches,” he said. “Definitely the PBF Redbirds – I’ve grown up a lot more, and the last two years I’ve obviously been busy with Baseball Canada – and they got me started on the right path. Then getting a chance to play with the Junior National Team has just been a wild ride.
“I can’t even put into words how much it’s helped me with everything from performance, confidence, just being a better person – the life experience it gives you is through the roof. Everyone at Baseball Canada – Greg Hamilton, Chris Reitsma, even all the hitting coaches who I don’t really work with – they’ve been there the entire way and I can’t thank them enough. I wouldn’t be here without any of that.”
When Soroka was asked about the level of surprise for his selection on a Tuesday morning radio appearance, the Cal Berkeley commit cited his improvements over the spring with the national team as a factor that took away the element of surprise. While some with less familiarity with Team Canada might have been caught off guard at the early Canadian draft picks, those who have followed along the way had high expectations.
“There are many big names in Baseball Canada and we’re definitely gaining more respect as we go,” the 6-foot-4, 195-pound hurler said. “Especially now. That was a really big eye-opener. The MLB teams realize we have something, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, but there are a lot of services and media publications that have never followed us throughout the entire spring.
“As a few of our names are off the board they’re realizing there is something up here and I really believe that it’s just going to get better.”
Soroka is happy with the progress he’s made and the point he’s gotten to, knowing there is still a long way to go, whether he signs with the Braves and heads into the professional realm or if he fulfills his college commitment.
“I’m proud of myself for really laying everything on the line,” he said. “I have no regrets and that was the way we wanted it. This was my goal my entire life, and this spring for sure, and we had nothing to lose. My dad [Gary] has been there the entire way, ever since I started playing baseball to now, he’s come on almost every trip. He’s been a huge supporter and to be able to do it so that he can see me do that is really good as well. The draft is kind of a payoff but the work’s not done.”
Soroka will undoubtedly be moving onto the next phase of his career very soon, and at the very least by the end of the summer, so for now he is trying to soak in the draft experience and cherish the moment he got to share with family and friends.
“It was a really fun process,” he said. “I know some guys started getting nervous a long time before the draft, and I wasn’t really that anxious until yesterday, but it only happens once. Maybe twice if you end up going the university route, but it’s an unbelievable experience and something I will remember for the rest of my life, right down from pitching in front of all the scouts to hearing my name called. It’s an experience that very few people get to have.”