ATLANTA -- 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 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."
When MLB Pipeline released its 2019 rankings on Saturday, Soroka remained the top prospect in the Braves' talent-rich system. The 21-year-old hurler also ranked as game's No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 right-handed pitching prospect. 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."
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Soroka limited the Mets to one earned run over six innings during his Major League debut on May 1. But after making just two more starts, he missed a month because of what were the first signs of shoulder discomfort. He limited the Mets to one hit over 6 1/3 scoreless innings on June 13, but the Canadian hurler's season ended one week later, when a sore shoulder tarnished his first start in his native country against the Blue Jays.
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."
Looking toward the upcoming season, if healthy, Soroka is a lock to spend some time in Atlanta's starting rotation. But the Braves will likely limit his early-season workload while using him, Toussaint, Fried and possibly a couple other prospects to alternately fill their fifth rotation spot. This means the members of this group will be flipped between the Majors and Triple-A Gwinnett as the Braves attempt to give all of their starters an extra day of rest between starts.
"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."