In 2015, Soroka graduated from Bishop Carroll High School in Alberta, Canada, with a commitment to Cal St.-Berkeley.
Mike helped the Canadian Junior National team finish third in the 2014 COPABE 18-U Pan American Games. He also tossed 13 scoreless innings during the team’s trip through the Dominican Summer League prior to becoming the highest-drafted player ever out of Alberta.
Like most young Canadians, Soroka spent considerable time on ice. After 10 years of playing hockey, including the last several as a goalie, he decided to focus on baseball. His development took off when he began working with former big league reliever Chris Reitsma and earning a spot on Team Canada, as part of the Canadian Junior National Team.
June 2015: Soroka was the Braves first round pick, out of Bishop Carroll High in Alberta, Canada. And he signed for $1,974,700, via scout Brett Evert. Mike's pick was compensation for the Twins signing Ervin Santana.
Give an 18-year-old $1.97 million, and chances are they will go just a little wild. That’s not Mike Soroka’s style.
“Almost all of it is going toward future savings, stuff like that, and to go back to school,” said Soroka, who was taken 28th by the Braves in the draft and received the hefty signing bonus just after graduating from high school.
“I got my dream car, nothing too crazy, a Dodge Challenger. I told my dad, ‘If this happens, Dad, that’s what I’m getting’. He likes it probably as much as I do.”
Born and raised in Calgary, Soroka had a busy 2015. After the draft, he spent time in the Gulf Coast League, then was moved up to Danville, Va., in the Appalachian League, then it was Instructional League in Orlando, Fla.
“As soon as I hit high school and quit hockey, my baseball started taking off,” Soroka said. “Made our Triple-A Calgary team, then Alberta top-40, then Team Alberta and later that fall was invited to Team Canada for the first time. It was fast, for sure. Every once in a while I do stop and realize how far I’ve come already, but also how much farther I have to go.”
Soroka attended Bishop Carroll High School, which caters to elite student-athletes and served Soroka well as he pursued his baseball dream alongside his high-school diploma.
“I’m very thankful that Bishop Carroll exists,” Mike said. "Keep working out, keep getting stronger and show them what I have,” said the 6-foot-4 Soroka. “It’s a goal of mine to keep moving up every step I go. That’s the goal for next year, year after that, until hopefully, I'm in the big leagues one day.” (Rita Mingo/Jan. 2016)
In 2016, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Soroka as 8th-best prospect in the Braves' organization.
He moved up to #4 during the winter before 2017 spring training. And he was at #3 in the spring of 2019.
2016 Season: Pity his scrapbook, bursting at the seams, buried by benchmarks.
On opening day, Soroka was the starting pitcher for the Rome, Georgia Braves. Mid-season, he was named to the South Atlantic (Single-A) League’s all-star showcase.The campaign concluded with his club laying claim to the championship.
Amazing stuff (frequently the two-word description of his mound offerings). And all this in the summer Mike turned 19, his first full season of professional baseball.
“It really was a special year,” says the Calgarian, who, after a Florida Instructional League assignment in Orlando, arrived home this week. “All in all, I’m happy with my year, but I’m never really satisfied. I’ll try to have a better one next year.”
Soroka, tellingly, singles out only one portion of his season – a stretch in the middle stages when he struggled, but, ultimately, overcame.
“I think the most important thing for me this year is that I learned who I was as a pitcher even more,” the right-hander says. “What I am on the mound. What I can and cannot do. Mechanically, I learned that much more. Just finding that happy medium of being able to do it every day.”
Any way it’s sliced, 2016 was a resounding success. He had a 9-9 record in the Sally League; and only nine pitchers recorded more wins. To the 3.02 earned-run average—eighth best. To the 125 strikeouts—12th. To the 1.13 WHIP—sixth. To, especially for him, the 143.0 innings—sixth most—then another 15 from the post-season’s two starts.
“For the first year out of high school, that was quite a bit (of work) … so I’m very thankful my coaches let me go,” says Soroka, a product of the PBF Redbirds’ program in Calgary. “That’s one thing I was really proud of this year. It’s going to be one of my strengths moving forward. It’s going to be one of the things I have to do to separate myself – eat innings. Teams love that.” (Scott Cruickshank, Calgary Herald - October 2016)
In 2017, Soroka represented the Braves in the All-Star Futures game.
In 2017, Soroka was named the Braves Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Braves' GM Alex Anthopoulos' first introduction to Mike actually occurred when the highly touted young pitcher was still in high school.
As a member of the Canadian Junior National team, Soroka spent a couple of weeks as a high school junior and senior working out at the Blue Jays' Spring Training complex in Dunedin, Fla. He initially caught Anthopoulos' eye with a side session with some of Toronto's prospects who were participating in the Instructional League in 2014.
Six months later, Soroka seemed to enhance his draft stock while completing two innings against a Blue Jays Spring Training lineup that included Russell Martin, Chris Colabello and Dalton Pompey. His first inning was relatively clean, but the second inning was marred by a slew of errors made by the high school teammates who played behind him.
"To his credit, as much as they kicked the ball behind him, he didn't react or pout," said Anthopoulos, who was the Blue Jays' GM from 2009-2015. "He kept his composure. That's the kind of stuff you want to see. He just stayed professional the whole way."
"I haven't seen much of him [pitching] yet, but in terms of the kid, makeup and everything you hear, yeah he's a professional," Anthopoulos said. "In our player meetings, just based on the questions he asks, he's a cut above everybody else. He's just sharp and he strikes me as a guy who is looking to get better any way he can."
Looking back at childhood pictures that show him pitching with his left hip leaning toward the plate and his body staying above the rubber, Soroka believes his sound mechanics might have come somewhat naturally. He has benefited from the tutelage of former Braves reliever Chris Reitsma. But Soroka's greatest asset seems to a disciplined approach that he attributes to a will to win.
"I've just fallen in love with success and you don't want to change anything," Soroka said. "You want to keep doing everything you can to keep building from there." (Bowman - mlb.com - 3/1/2018)
2019 Season: Soroka finished the season fifth in the Majors in ERA (2.68) and fourth in Adjusted ERA+ (169), which takes a player's ERA and normalizes it across the entire league by accounting for external factors like ballparks and opponents.
How special was this season. He joined Dwight Gooden (229 in 1985), Vida Blue (183 in 1971) and Jose Fernandez (176 in 2013) as the only pitchers of the Live Ball era to produce a ERA+ of 165 or better at 21 years old or younger.“If he stays healthy, he’s going to be one of the greats,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said.Here’s a look back at Soroka’s memorable first season.
What went right?
The two most important stats on Soroka’s ledger were 29 starts and 174.2 innings. These numbers highlighted the good health he maintained after right shoulder inflammation limited him to five starts in 2018. A separate shoulder ailment, influenced by aggressive weightlifting, sidelined Sorkoa for most of Spring Training. But he experienced no other issues after making his season debut on April 18.
“[Staying healthy] is what I’m most proud of this year,” Soroka said. “I’ve been taking my health for granted for a lot of years in the Minor Leagues. I was just being naïve, thinking because I worked out and ate well, I’d never get hurt. Last year was the toughest summer I’ve ever had because it challenges you as a person. I was able to turn it around to one of the best things that ever happened to me because I learned about what it takes to stay healthy for a whole season.”
Soroka produced a 1.07 ERA through his first eight starts, allowing less than two earned runs in each. Accounting for his success during the injury-shortened 2018, he stands as the only pitcher since 1913 (when earned runs became an official stat), to allow one earned run or fewer in 11 of his first 13 career starts. No other pitcher had done so in as many as eight of his first 10 starts.
Over his final 21 starts, Soroka’s production was more pedestrian, as he posted a 3.34 ERA. Still, he was Atlanta’s top starter over the entire season. The decision to hold him for Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals was influenced by the fact he posted a 4.14 ERA in 13 home starts and a 1.55 ERA in 16 road starts. In the divisional era (since 1969), Greg Maddux (1.12 in 1995) and Roger Clemens (1.32 in 2005) are the only pitchers (minimum 15 starts) to produce a better road ERA.
What went wrong?
Home: 4.14 ERA, 76 innings, .275 batting average against, .322 on-base percentage, .420 slugging, 7.58 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.13 walks per nine innings, 48.9% ground-ball rateRoad: 1.55 ERA, 98.2 IP, .205 BA/.261 OBP/.373 SLG, 7.11 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 54.2% GB rate
While Soroka's strikeout and walk rates were pretty similar, there was a significant difference in the slash line categories and at least a slight difference in the ground-ball rate. Per Baseball Savant, opponents batted .205 (24-for-117) and slugged .231 on ground balls against Soroka at SunTrust Park. They hit .207 (31-for-150) with no extra-base hits on ground balls hit against him outside of Atlanta. These near-identical results erase thoughts that SunTrust's infield surface influenced the sinkerballer’s uneven splits.
Soroka did surrender 9 of his 14 homers in Atlanta, despite pitching 22 more innings on the road. But when evaluating a one-year sample size that includes many other similar variables, it might be best to consider bad luck as the difference in these home/road splits.
Soroka limited the Nationals to one run and three hits over seven innings on July 31. Later, he pushed the Braves toward the NL East title when he limited the eventual World Series champions to one hit over six scoreless innings at Nationals Park on Sept. 13.
But Soroka's finest performance was when he allowed one run and two hits over seven innings against the Cards in Game 3 of the NLDS. He set a Braves postseason record by retiring 17 straight batters between the second and seventh innings. “He was as nasty as any pitcher I’ve faced in the postseason,” Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright said after opposing Soroka that day in St. Louis.
Soroka stands to be the Braves’ ace entering next season and he has the potential to be an NL Cy Young Award candidate for many years to come. He has already made some adjustments to temper his weightlifting routines, and he spent this past summer gaining a better sense of what he needs to do to prepare to make 30-plus starts on an annual basis.“I got to see firsthand how guys like Scherzer work and how they understand there’s never a point in this game where you know everything,” Soroka said. “There’s always something to learn, especially with the way this game is trending with analytics and all that’s available to us as pitchers to aid in our betterment. I think it’s going to be a fun offseason. We’ll look at some things I need to improve on or what I need to do more of next year that I didn’t do as much this year.” (Mark Bowman - MLB.com - Nov. 6, 2019)
In 2019, Soroka finished second to Pete Alonso for the NL Rookie of the Year.
- 2019 Season: Mike loved the road. Soroka had an impressive rookie year, though he finished second behind Alonso for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Bouncing back from a right shoulder injury that ended his 2018 season, Soroka anchored the Braves’ rotation all year. He was particularly great on the road, where he was one of 45 pitchers to throw at least 85 innings, but the only one of those to allow just five homers.
Soroka had a 1.55 road ERA, which was fourth lowest among qualified starters since the mound was lowered in 1969. The only pitchers ahead of him on that list? Greg Maddux, twice, and Roger Clemens. That’s good company.
In his postseason debut (Game 3 of the NLDS), Soroka went seven innings and did not walk a batter, allowing just one run. He became the youngest pitcher in postseason history to go at least seven innings without issuing a free pass in his postseason debut. And of course, he did it on the road in St. Louis. (S Langs - MLB.com - Dec 30, 2019)
Just a couple weeks after being selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, Soroka was using bat speed, exit velocity, and other advanced metrics while discussing Ronald Acuña Jr.’s potential. The 22-year-old righthander significantly influenced the game plan he devised with veteran catcher Brian McCann before shutting down the Cardinals in Game 3 of last year’s NL Division Series.
His attention to detail, advanced baseball IQ, and communication skills would seemingly make him a prime managerial candidate in the future. But there’s certainly a chance he’ll end up making the kind of money that would lead him to pass on dealing with the headaches the role creates. (M Bowman - MLB.com - April 17, 2020)
|Birth City:||Calgary, Alberta Canada|
|Draft:||Braves #1 - 2015 - Out of high school (Calgary, Canada)|
Soroka has a 91-94 mph heavy 2-seam SINKER that eats up righthanded hitters, and also has a 4-seam FASTBALL in the 92-95 mph range, that he elevates, and it changes a hitter's eye levels. He has a 55 grade 85-87 mph SLIDER Mike has feel for a CHANGEUP that already flashes 55 or 60 with late run. It runs away from lefthanded hitters and keeps them from sitting on his heater. And he has good feel for it.
What makes it all work is Soroka’s plus control and above-average command. He has a clean delivery and has long impressed with his competitive, mature makeup. (Spring, 2019)
2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 18% of the time; Sinker 45.4%; Change 12.4%; and Slider 24.1% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93 mph, Sinker 92.4, Change 81.3, and Slider 83.2 mph.
Mike pounds the strike zone with all three of his pitches, rarely walking a hitter. While none of his pitches has a "Wow" factor, he compete with each pitch and has the balance and athleticism to continuously throw strikes. His control grades at a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. And his command is not far behind.
Soroka paints both sides of the plate, focusing his pitches in the lower part of the strike zone. He combines command and a solid feel for pitching.
Soroka's across-the-body finish to his delivery concerns some evaluators. But he has a simple, repeatable delivery that provides 55 or 60 grade command.
That delivery has a little crossfire action that adds deception and has not affected his plus control.
In 2015, whenever a righthander stepped into the batter’s box, Soroka was in control. He’d pound them inside with his two-seam sinker, setting up his slurvy breaking ball or his changeup to finish them off. It worked extremely well. Righthanded batters hit just .119/.155/.134 against him. And only one of those 71 batters collected an extra-base hit against him—a lone double.
But when Soroka faced a lefthanded batter, the balance of power swung sharply in the favor of the hitter. As devastating as Soroka was for righties, he was equally powerless against lefties. They hit .373/.361/.448 against him. While Soroka struck out 36 percent of righthanders, he whiffed just 15 percent of the lefties in 2015.
“A lot of lefties were getting too comfortable,” Soroka said during spring training. “Lefties weren’t having much trouble because everything to them was away, away, away. My fastball would run back away. Even if I threw a changeup, they just had to get their hands out and punch the ball.”
In the past, Soroka set up on the third-base side of the rubber. It fit well as a righthander with a sinker-slider repertoire, but his closed-off finish to his delivery made it hard to locate the ball to his glove side. So while his pitches tended to get in on righthanders, a lefty quickly learned that Soroka had trouble locating inside on them.
So in the offseason, Soroka slid to the middle of the pitching rubber. It’s a compromise of sorts, for he’s still close enough to the third-base side to get in on righthanded hitters, but now he can also locate to his glove side, too. And the move has also allowed him to be more direct to home plate, taking away some of the cross-body delivery that concerned scouts in the past.
"To get to the other side, I had to really fly open. We started working before the draft. I was then landing a couple inches closed, but still from the third-base side it was hard to get in. I moved closer to the middle. Now that I’m right online, getting in on lefties is no problem. And now that I’m farther this way, I don’t have to hook my slider so much. I can start it top corner of the zone (instead of out of the zone), and that’s a lot easier on the sight points.”
More significantly, Soroka was just as comfortable locating to the glove side of the plate, in on lefties, as he was locating to his arm side. That gives one of the youngest pitchers in the SAL a chance to also be one of the best. (J.J. Cooper - Baseball America - 5/06/2016)
Mike is very efficient, getting hitters out with few pitches. He gets through 7 innings with 70-85 pitches, while most starters are over 100 pitches at that point. He has impressive pitchability.
- Soroka is quick to credit Rome Braves manager Randy Ingle and Rome pitching coach Dan Meyer for providing an atmosphere that led to success in 2016.
“There’s no reason to complicate things,” said Soroka. “It was just a matter of learning how to do it every day and learning how to bring your best stuff to the table every time you go out. That’s been it for me—being able to bring the same intensity to each pitch.”
Mike is a solid mid-rotation starter.
January 28, 2019: Though Mike Soroka remains one of baseball's top overall prospects, he no longer possesses the blissful innocence that evaporated when a maddening shoulder ailment robbed him of what had the makings to be a very memorable debut 2018 season.
"You always wrote off injuries because you're naive and think just because you eat properly and work out, you're going to stay away from injuries," Soroka said. "That's not how it is. You learn that pretty quickly." Now, he must simply prove he has distanced himself from an injury that seemingly stemmed from personal physical development.
"It was about being able to move my scapula properly," Soroka said. "I had some muscles that were overactive and some others that were underactive. It wasn't so much about arm action or anything like that. It was more of an issue of just being able to move properly."
Multiple MRIs showed no sign of structural damage, but instead of rushing the then-20-year-old back to the mound, the Braves instead allowed him time to get healthy and get a better feel for the stretching and maintenance exercises he'll likely need throughout the rest of his career. Although there were some discussions about the possibility of having Soroka pitching out of Atlanta's bullpen in September and potentially in the postseason, the Braves stuck to their cautious approach.
Consequently, as Soroka spent the final weeks of the season working out at the Spring Training facility, his close friends Touki Toussaint and Max Fried were earning their spots on Atlanta's National League Division Series roster.
"I've been watching them succeed for the past three or four years in the Minor Leagues," Soroka said. "To see your friends do that is special, as well. It was definitely a little bittersweet being in Orlando and having to watch on TV. You want to be there and you want to be helping the club. But when you go down like that, when you come back it just makes it that much sweeter."
"It's about approaching it day to day," Soroka said. "If you do your job and take care of business on your end, things will work themselves out. A lot of us have grown up to be best friends and guys we're going to talk to for the rest of our lives. Healthy competition is always good because it brings out the best in everyone." (M Bowman - MLB.com - January 28, 2019)
May 16, 2019: Soroka is the first pitcher since earned runs became official in both leagues in 1913 to allow one or fewer earned runs as a starter in 8 of his first 11 career games.
He is also the first Braves starter of the live-ball era (since 1920) to open a season by allowing one earned run or less in each of his first six starts.
May 2019: Soroka's success so far is built on grit and poise. Having seemingly distanced himself from the shoulder ailments that limited him to five big league starts in 2018 and forced him to miss most of this year’s Spring Training, Soroka has posted a 0.98 ERA through this season's first six starts.
Soroka has shown the ability to pitch up in the zone with his four-seamer and keep hitters off-balance with a slider that has limited opponents to a .121 (4-for-33) batting average and .152 slugging percentage.
But his most valuable weapon is the two-seamer, which has helped him induce a grounder with 61 percent of the balls put in play. This matches Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo for the highest percentage produced by an MLB starter this year.
Soroka’s 9.1 percent walk rate would rank 60th among qualified starting pitchers. But the young hurler has consistently escaped trouble while limiting opponents to a MLB-best .050 (2-for-40) batting average with runners in scoring position.
“The biggest thing I like about this kid is he doesn’t panic,” Snitker said. “He just keeps pitching. He goes pitch to pitch. He doesn’t get caught up in what is coming down in the road. He stays current, and I think that is a great trait for a pitcher to have.”
“He's got the pitch to get out of it,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “He’s got the power sinker to get them to hit it on the ground. He just stays composed. He doesn’t get rattled.” (M Bowman - MLB.com - May 16, 2019)
May 31, 2019: Soroka allowed one earned run or less in each of his season’s eight previous starts. This marks just the third time in 14 career starts the Atlanta rookie allowed three earned runs or more.
The 21-year-old righthander stands with Edinson Volquez (2008) and Mike Norris (1980) as the only pitchers of this era to do so over eight consecutive starts to begin a season.
June 30, 2019: Mike Soroka will be joining Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and manager Brian Snitker in Cleveland on July 9. Soroka was named to the NL All-Star team in his first full season in the Majors.
“It’s indescribable,” Soroka said. “Something that wasn’t on my mind for so long, really. The beginning of the season was just about getting back to the big leagues, being able to prove yourself to the team. “Just to be able to go out there and compete, and be healthy, was all I really asked for out of myself, and to be doing what I have, it’s just unbelievable. And it’s thanks to a lot of guys who keep me level-headed here.”
Soroka will be 21 years, 339 days old on the day of the game. He’s the youngest Braves pitcher to be an All-Star, breaking a record held by John Smoltz, who was 22 years and 57 days old in 1989 when he pitched in the game.
Feb 28, 2020: Mike has drawn praise for the advanced maturity and pitching IQ he has shown at a young age. But the Braves’ 22-year-old ace still had a surprising answer when asked about a timely ground ball he induced in the first inning of a 5-3 loss to the Yankees at CoolToday Park.
“We know [Mike] Tauchman was a little bit of a flat-bat guy, so we knew that was going to be our ground-ball guy down and away with the sinker.”
Seeing Tauchman ground into a double play after DJ LeMahieu opened the game by bouncing a single over shortstop Pete Kozma’s glove was not surprising. Armed with one of the game’s most lively sinkers, Soroka produced MLB’s sixth-best ground-ball rate (51.2 percent) last year.
But it certainly was different to hear a pitcher reference a pregame scouting report while talking about what he had just done while making his spring debut during a game in February. Most pitchers assured of a roster spot essentially just go through the motions at this point of the year. But most pitchers aren’t Soroka, who produced the National League’s third-best ERA (2.68) en route to finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year Award balloting last year.
“That’s why he’s going to be so good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “This is all a big deal to him. That was real encouraging to see him start out like this.”
After completing a six-pitch first, Soroka used two strikeouts to pitch around a pair of soft singles during a scoreless second inning. It was an efficient and successful spring debut for the young hurler, who will have time to make four more starts before making what would be his first Opening Day start. (M Bowman - MLB.com - Feb 29, 2020)
- As of the start of the 2020 season, Mike's career record was: 15-5 with a 2.79 ERA, having allowed 15 home runs and 183 hits in 200 innings.
May 14-June 13 2018: Mike was on the DL with right shoulder strain.
June 20-October 31, 2018: Mike was on the DL with right shoulder inflammation.
February 22, 2019: Less than a week into Spring Training, the Braves once again have reason to be concerned about Mike Soroka’s right shoulder. Manager Brian Snitker said Soroka was shut down after reporting right shoulder discomfort upon completing a side session earlier this week. The highly regarded 21-year-old prospect could be cleared to begin throwing again next week. But given the fact that right shoulder discomfort forced Soroka to miss the final three months of last season, there is now reason to worry about the hurler, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as the baseball’s 24th-best prospect.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Snitker said. “Everything checks out fine. His strength is fine. Nothing is wrong. It’s just some tendinitis that probably barked up. When that happens, it’s best to shut them down a little bit and keep doing the exercises. Then, we’ll get him going.”
Feb 24, 2020: “In my last live BP, I tried to my backside on my changeup,” Soroka said. “I just kind of dragged my backside a little long. I felt a little tightness in my adductor, so they said we might as well back it up a day or two.”
The Braves opted to push him back a few days because he tweaked his right adductor muscle while throwing a live BP session.