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Notes: Soroka seeks consistent four-seamer

Right-hander aims to improve fastball control in 2020
@mlbbowman
February 13, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As Mike Soroka attempts to build off a stellar rookie season that drew some National League Cy Young Award consideration, he is focused on improving the consistency of his four-seam fastball, a pitch that influences his go-to sinker and his two highly effective offspeed pitches. “Four-seamer

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As Mike Soroka attempts to build off a stellar rookie season that drew some National League Cy Young Award consideration, he is focused on improving the consistency of his four-seam fastball, a pitch that influences his go-to sinker and his two highly effective offspeed pitches.

“Four-seamer was just inconsistent,” Soroka said. “I’m not throwing from a low slot like [Max] Scherzer or somebody like that who gets under the ball and kind of shoots it. But I am able to throw one that sticks and jumps a little bit. To have that separation and be able to use that off my sinker is going to be huge. That’s going to make my slider a lot better and probably my changeup. The progress with that pitch is going to be huge.”

Per Statcast, Soroka threw his sinker 44.6 percent of the time. Opponents hit .290 and slugged .414 against this pitch. These numbers don’t symbolize dominance. But the Braves’ 22-year-old pitcher was one of seven MLB starters (minimum 100 balls in play) to produce an negative average launch angle (-1.2 degrees) with this pitch. His ability to consistently induce ground balls allowed him to escape threats. The .228 batting average he allowed with runners in scoring position ranked eighth in the NL.

Soroka’s ability to consistently get ahead in counts led him to limit opponents to a .154 batting average and a .224 slugging percentage against his slider, per Statcast. Against his changeup, opponents hit .133 with a .265 slugging percentage.

Having had time to look at the numbers and reflect on how hitters reacted to his repertoire, Soroka has determined he needs to work on the consistency of the four-seamer, a pitch that surrendered a .274 batting average and a .345 slugging percentage last year. His ability to command this pitch up in the zone should add to the effectiveness of his slider and sinker, which will attack two other planes of the strike zone.

“Any time you get complacent in this game and think you’ve got it made, it’s going to kick you right in the teeth,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “There’s always something to work on and improve on.”

Waters arrives
Some of the early arriving position players include Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Drew Waters, who is the No. 26 prospect in baseball, per MLBPipeline.

While at Chop Fest in January, Waters said he was focused on improving his right-handed swing. The 21-year-old switch-hitting outfielder slashed .325/.380/.486 from the left side and .258/.293/.371 from the right side while totaling 573 plate appearances at the Double-A and Triple-A levels last year.

Waters’ first on-field batting practice provided a glimpse of the power potential he could possess from the right side of the plate. He pulled a ball deep over the left-center-field wall during his first round of swings, but seemed even more pleased by the opposite-field line drives that dented and cleared the wall in right-center.

“You’re talking about kids that are maturing, physically and mentally,” Snitker said. “They’re going to continue to get stronger and mature. He’s a kid we had in camp last year and I’m excited about seeing him again this year.”

Webb's back
Jacob Webb was arguably the Braves’ best reliever before he was sidelined just after the All-Star break with a right elbow impingement. The 26-year-old posted a 1.39 ERA over the 32 1/3 innings (36 appearances) before being sidelined with what proved to be a season-ending ailment.

Fortunately for Webb, he has reported to camp without any restrictions and provided the Braves hope he can once again be a reliable asset.

“I saw him throw a bullpen the other day,” Snitker said. “He looks good. You wouldn't know we shut him down at the end of the year. He's really, really encouraging right now.”

If Webb stays healthy, he could certainly win one of the final two available spots in the eight-man bullpen, which is projected to include Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Shane Greene, Darren O’Day, Chris Martin and Luke Jackson. The other vacancy could be filled by Josh Tomlin, who would once again serve as the long reliever.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.