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It’s an exciting time to be an Atlanta Braves fan. After a surprise division championship in 2018, the club also debuted 20-year-old phenom and Rookie of the Year winner Ronald Acuna Jr. However, there was another 20-year-old that debuted for the Braves last year, not in the batter's box, but on the pitching mound instead.

Although he only threw 25.2 big league innings last year, there’s a lot to love about Mike Soroka. The fact that he already received his major league call-up in May this past season says enough in itself that he’s a top-tier talent. Soroka’s season was cut short in 2018 due to an injury to his throwing shoulder, which has caused his draft stock to take a hit so far in early drafts. This fact gives him huge sleeper potential going into the 2019 season as a mere 21-year-old.

Let’s take a look at his minor league success and his short stint in the majors to get in on all the hype.

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Minor League Sensation

Soroka has an impressive resume in the minor leagues, so it’s no wonder why he soared up to the majors at the ripe age of 20. What makes him so valuable is his pinpoint control. Across 361.1 innings pitched since his minor league career began in 2015, his BB/9 is an incredible 1.92. For some perspective, Corey Kluber’s career walk rate is 1.91, and the major league average in 2018 was 3.25 BB/9. At 6’4” he doesn’t overpower hitters with his fastball like you’d think he would with that kind of frame. His fastball clocks in at a modest 93 MPH on average, so he doesn’t have quite the strikeout potential like other pitching prospects, but he doesn't shy away from them either. A career minor league 8.0 K/9 hiked up to 10.3 K/9 in 27 IP during his brief time in Triple-A in 2018. It’s a small sample size but still encouraging nonetheless.

The Calgary, Alberta native has a four-pitch repertoire throwing the fastball and sinker mostly while mixing in a slider and a changeup for his off-speed pitches. Soroka doesn’t need to rely on the strikeout because he’s so fortunate with having a terrific groundball ability. His career minor league 1.67 GB/FB would be way above the major league average which sat at 1.22 in 2018. For the sake of another major league comparison, his 1.67 mark would have equaled Aaron Nola for seventh-best in 2018. With this collection of abilities, his big league potential is very exciting.

 

Major League Frustration

On May 1, Soroka took the mound for his major league debut against the New York Mets, outduelling Noah Syndergaard for the win. He spun six innings of one-run ball striking out five batters without issuing a single free pass. The right-hander made two more starts before landing on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. He returned a month later, and after two more starts, he was placed back on the DL with more inflammation. This injury disappointingly marked the end of his short season.

Although it was a short sample size in the majors, the tall hurler carried over a lot of qualities that made him successful in the minor leagues. He had satisfactory strikeout and walk numbers for a youngster. His K/9 finished at 7.36, and his BB/9 sat at 2.45, both a bit below his minor league norms, but he still proved big league players couldn't completely overpower him. His ground-ball rate, however, climbed up to a 1.85 GB/FB, a number worth salivating over in the fly ball-dominated league.

 

2019 Implication

The good news with Soroka is that he’s still so young, there is a lot of room for growth with his already above average skill set. The bad news is he’s so youthful that the Braves will be cautious with their top prospect. Whether it’s this year or the next, Soroka has a very prosperous future ahead of him as a major league pitcher. He undoubtedly carries some re-draft risk with a potential innings limit and past shoulder injury, but last season was the first year since 2015 where he failed to make it at least 143 IP. He has been durable before this past season, but we know the Braves have plenty of pitching depth so they can afford to limit his work.

Soroka is fully ready for spring training and received a clean bill of health in the offseason. It’s certainly a situation to monitor in March as to where he will begin the season, but it’s more likely that he’ll start in Triple-A rather than the majors. With an inevitable major league call-up, he’ll provide significant value to your team whenever he does take the hill. The elite walk and ground-ball rates should translate to the majors, and the strikeouts will presumably boost with more growth and with the league continuing in the direction of low-contact free swingers. At an ADP of 293, it's a high upside pick especially given the lack of promising ability this late in drafts.

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