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G3 starter Soroka 'going to be one of the greats'

@mlbbowman
October 6, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Asked what separates Mike Soroka from the typical 22-year-old pitcher, first baseman Freddie Freeman pointed across Busch Stadium’s visitors' clubhouse toward the Braves’ prized rookie hurler, who was huddled with veteran catcher Brian McCann and catching coach Sal Fasano.

ST. LOUIS -- Asked what separates Mike Soroka from the typical 22-year-old pitcher, first baseman Freddie Freeman pointed across Busch Stadium’s visitors' clubhouse toward the Braves’ prized rookie hurler, who was huddled with veteran catcher Brian McCann and catching coach Sal Fasano.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 STL 7, ATL 6 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 ATL 3, STL 0 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 ATL 3, STL 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 STL 5, ATL 4 (10) Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 STL 13, ATL 1 Watch

The trio was watching video, scouring data and developing a game plan for Soroka to take to the mound Sunday afternoon, when he opposes the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

“[Soroka] has his own game plan, and he knows what is his best stuff,” Freeman said. “I don’t know of any 22-year-olds who are going to sit with Sal Fasano and Brian McCann and put as much input into the scouting report. He knows how he works. I think that’s the most important thing; knowing yourself. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be one of the greats.”

Soroka’s maturity and baseball IQ separate him from most pitchers his age. The results from his first full Major League season speak for themselves. He ranked third in the NL with a 2.68 ERA, and his 1.55 road ERA was the third best produced within the Divisional Era (since 1969).

“The first time you talk to him, you know,” Braves outfielder Nick Markakis said. “When we're at the field, we talk baseball. He just got it, just the way he talks, the way he approaches, the way he prepares for the game. Everything was above and beyond any 21-year-old pitcher that I've been able to play with in my career.”

Four years later, the baseball world has a better understanding of why scouts were so impressed after watching a 17-year-old Soroka capably handle himself while facing a split-squad Blue Jays team in Spring Training. He was pitching for the Canadian Junior National team at the time and benefiting from the tutelage gained over the previous few years, when former big leaguers Chris Reitsma and Paul Quantrill served as valuable mentors.

“I would say I was very lucky to have gotten to hit that learning curve when I was 15, 16, 17 years old, to the point where they made things very obvious to me that weren't so obvious to regular 16, 17-year-olds in high school,” Soroka said. “Having the mentality that any pitch in any count, when you're 16 pitching against professional baseball hitters, you know, is really something that we're still trying to work toward. And that's not a new subject anymore.”

Though he filled the same role with the Phillies last year, Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz did not know a lot about Soroka, who made just five starts in 2018 before being sidelined with right shoulder inflammation. But the longtime pitching guru quickly learned why so many had raved about Soroka’s knowledge and attention to detail.

“All year, it’s been, 'Is this kid really 22 years old?'” Kranitz said. “He asks me questions very few people ask me when they are his age. He’s always trying to better himself. He’s come to me with a lot of different things that I really appreciate. He’s always prepared, and he always knows what he wants to do.”

Asked to elaborate on some of the questions he’s received, Kranitz laughed and said he did not want to reveal too many secrets. But the baseball world is well aware of what to expect from Soroka. He can confidently command his four-seamer up in the zone, create horizontal deception with his slider and then go to his patented sinker whenever necessary.

Soroka allowed one earned run or none in nine of this season's first 10 starts, including each of the first eight. He showed some signs of fatigue as opponents hit .272 and produced a .311 on-base percentage over his final 19 starts, but he’ll enter this first career postseason start having thrown just 10 innings since Sept. 13.

With the NL East essentially wrapped up two weeks before the end of the season, the Braves took advantage of the chance to alter Soroka’s schedule with the hope he will begin the postseason much like he did the regular season.

“He's the real deal,” Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz said. “I mean it doesn't seem like he's a rookie at all, just the way he carries himself. Even out on the mound when he gets in trouble, he's cool, calm, collected. I don't know if he breaks a sweat, to be honest, out there.”

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