By: Nick Ashbourne
Mike Soroka didn't know which team was going to take him in the 2015 MLB Draft, but he had his suspicions.
The Calgary, Alberta native watched the event with a small group of friends and family knowing the Atlanta Braves were among the teams interested in taking him. That didn't mean he wasn't surprised they selected the him with the 28th pick of the draft.
“There was probably three, four, maybe five teams we knew were very interested," said Soroka. "The Braves were one of those, but we didn’t know they were going to pick me until two minutes before it happened.”
Being picked by the same organization that developed pitchers like Tom Glavine and John Smoltz was far from a disappointment, but it's possible Soroka may have been one pick away from staying in Canada with the Toronto Blue Jays,who held the 29th selection.
“The Jays were a team that were pretty openly interested," he said. "I guess we’ll never know what might have happened.”
Regardless of what might have been, Soroka feels that he's landed in the right place with an organization that has a knack for developing pitchers.
“I know [the Braves] are a really good pitchers organization for developing actual pitching arms." he said. "They don't just file flamethrowers into the big leagues once in a while and see them struggle and get sent down.”
Soroka has more information on the team than the average draftee as his pitching coach Chris Reitsma- a fellow Calgary native picked 34th in the 1996 draft- spent three of his seven years in the major leagues with the club.
“[Reitsma] said to me before the draft that the Braves were one of the better pitching organizations," Soroka said. "He wanted to me to go to an organization that prided actual pitching.”
The concept of "actual pitching" is important to Soroka. Many 17-year-old hurlers focus primarily on velocity and know very little about how to command their stuff and put together effective pitch sequences.
Even though Soroka's fastball can touch 94 mph-a number that could improve as he grows- he considers himself a pitcher not a thrower.
"Right now my greatest strength is fastball command," he says. "Not just cutting down on walks, but being able to throw in and out whenever I want.
"It’s helped an unbelievable amount being able to go inside on guys with a two-seam, being about to go away on lefties with that pitch and then back in. It does a lot more than people think.”
Another strength that separates Soroka from guys who simply throw hard is the movement that he gets on his pitches. It was this movement that caught the eye of Braves director of scouting Brian Bridges.
“Bat-breaking fastball, breaking ball on the cusp, feel for a changeup, throws strikes, heavy fastball, the sky is the limit," he told reporters at the MLB Draft. "Six-foot-four doesn’t throw the ball straight, you’ve got a tendency to like those guys.”
Soroka comes by this movement naturally as a result of his delivery and arm slot.
“I don’t think you can really teach that too much, you can kinda work on it, but having natural downward sink is hard to manufacture," he says. "I’m lucky to have that.”
While his velocity is nothing to sneeze at, it is likely the movement he creates on the ball and the commitment to the finer points of pitching that are likely to carry him down the long road to the major leagues.
As far as Soroka is concerned, he's travelling down that road with the right franchise.