ATLANTA -- Kolby Allard breezed through the early portion of last season, and he finished with a flurry that strengthened his status as one of baseball's top pitching prospects. But his most beneficial stretch occurred midway through the season, when he struggled for a couple of weeks and then provided a glimpse of his mental resolve.
"I think [the rough stretch] made me a better player, and I'm super excited about the way I matured," Allard said. "After I struggled, I said to myself, 'There are two ways you can go about this. You can roll over and coast the rest of this year, or you can make some adjustments and battle through it.' I was really happy about how I finished the year."
A little less than three years removed from graduating high school and being selected by Atlanta in the first round (14th overall) of the 2015 MLB Draft, Allard ranks as MLB Pipeline's No. 22 overall prospect and the No. 2 prospect in the Braves' talent-rich farm system. The 20-year-old southpaw overcame challenges as one of the youngest players in the Southern League last summer, and he'll likely open this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.
"I'm a completely different guy this year," Allard said. "I can't give enough credit to [Braves director of player development] Dom Chiti and [Double-A Mississippi pitching coach] Derrick Lewis. I learned more about myself this year than I did during any previous year. That's kind of what pitching is, knowing your strengths and weaknesses and ultimately going out and getting outs. If you can execute and know who you are, that's the ultimate."
Allard and his close friend Mike Soroka have developed a strong bond since being selected by the Braves in the first round of the 2015 Draft. They were not fazed when given a chance to skip the Class A Advanced level last year, and next month, they'll come to Spring Training knowing either one of them could be just a few months away from pitching in the Majors.
Soroka, who ranks as MLB Pipeline's No. 34 prospect and the No. 4 prospect in Atlanta's system, welcomed Allard to his western Canada home in November, and the two were reunited last weekend as they participated in MLB's Rookie Career Development Program in Washington. They have spent this week together at Allard's Southern California home.
"It's really nice to go through it with somebody, especially somebody who is a good guy and a very hard worker," Soroka said. "I think we feed off each other, both on the mound and during those days between starts. I know he's done a lot to help me, and I hope he can say the same [about me]. I'm glad we can go through this together, and hopefully we can pitch in Atlanta for a long time together."
Allard posted a 1.23 ERA through his first eight starts for Mississippi last year, but he began struggling with his command near the end of May. The young southpaw posted a 5.55 ERA over his next 12 starts. But after making some mechanical adjustments, he proceeded to produce a 1.83 ERA while recording 43 strikeouts and issuing just six walks over his final seven starts (44 1/3 innings).
"I'm not going to say I'm going to go out and dominate this or dominate that, but I'm confident in what I do as a pitcher," Allard said. "I'm super excited about getting to camp, and hopefully I'll throw the ball pretty well. We have a lot of good arms. So it's fun to get to camp, where everyone is on the same field. It ultimately pushes you to be a better pitcher."