Though he’s just 21 years old, Mike Soroka’s coming up and sticking in the majors has been a long time coming. Last year should have been his first season, but his campaign was cut short by shoulder inflammation. Before that, the highly touted, but somehow unlikely, pitching prospect had shown that he was ready to perform at the major league level. His rookie year was delayed, but he’s back now, and he looks no worse for wear. In his most recent start, Soroka struck out eight Padres over six innings while walking just one.
In his first three starts this year, he’s been tough to hit. No batter has barreled a ball against him, let alone hit a home run. He’s struck out nearly a third of the batters he’s faced which is surprising since he hasn’t had extreme strikeout numbers through the minors. He’s succeeded because of his impeccable fastball command.
The slider can sweep across the zone or take the shape of a 12-6 curveball. He doesn’t get a ton of whiffs with the pitch, but he gets hitters to chase out of the zone where they’re less likely to do damage. A good sinker-slider combination is generally enough for some pitchers to survive, but Soroka has also shown off a constantly improving changeup.
On the 64 changeups he’s thrown in the bigs, Soroka has a swinging strike rate of 21.9 percent which is roughly what Chris Paddack has accomplished with his changeup. This is a small sample size, of course. If Soroka throws 300 changeups this year, he might not wind up with one of the ten best swinging strike rates. Still, it’s hard to fake those kinds of results.
The pitch can sometimes feature heavy armside movement akin to Reyes Moronta’s new changeup.
That’s not exactly where he wanted to throw that, but that kind of movement can be devastating to lefties.
The pitch also has late break which has allowed him to miss with the pitch up and still avoid the bat. Here’s a middle-middle changeup that Franmil Reyes swung over.
At some point, hitters will stop missing the changeup at the belt and Soroka will need to more consistently get it below the zone. For now, the infrequency of it is taking hitters by surprise.
It’s the pitch he throws least often. He’ll mix in the changeup around every tenth pitch. More specifically, he’ll use it when the batter is ahead and likely looking for a fastball. I’d be inclined to think he should throw it more often, but it’s been working so well for him. Why should he change anything?
With the changeup finally taking form, Soroka doesn’t just have a heavy sinker with tight command. He has three plus pitches that he can throw at any time. So far, hitters haven’t been able to crack him even when he makes a mistake. There were some doubters when the Braves initially drafted him, but eight starts into his major league career, he’s shown that he belongs.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.