Atlanta Braves: Michael Soroka and why baseball isn't always fair

The story of Michael Soroka's time with the Braves is one of heartbreak and perseverance

Jul 21, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA;  Atlanta Braves pitcher Michael Soroka (40) throws a pitch
Jul 21, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Michael Soroka (40) throws a pitch / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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When the Atlanta Braves drafted Michael Soroka 28th overall in the 2015 draft, few thought that he would become the fan favorite that he has become. While he certainly had an intriguing blend of command, stuff, and projection, he wasn't even the most highly regarded pitching prospect the Braves drafted that year as that honor went to Kolby Allard who the Braves picked 14 spots ahead of him.

However, Soroka proved all his doubters wrong once he got to the pros as it became clear that he was a special player with the talent and mental approach to the game to become a star. Many thought that he was going to be a key cog in the Braves' rotation for years to come.

Unfortunately, Soroka's career so far has been a lesson that the game of baseball doesn't always give us what we want and isn't always fair.

Soroka's star burned bright with the Braves

At the start of the 2016 minor league season, Soroka wasn't getting a ton of attention at the national level. There were certainly some Braves diehards (including yours truly) who were very intrigued by him, but overall he wasn't on a lot of people's radars just yet.

However, that changed pretty quickly in 2016 as Soroka posted a 3.02 ERA with 125 strikeouts and 32 walks in 143 innings with the low-A Rome Braves that season. Folks were blown away not only by how efficiently he navigated games despite his age but also just how beyond his years he was with his mental preparedness and understanding of pitching. A certain amount of caution was exercised as prep arms have broken their fair share of hearts, but something special was certainly brewing.

The Braves clearly agreed as they jumped Soroka all the way to Double-A Mississippi for the 2017 season. Normally, a challenge that stiff for a 19-year-old would have some growing pains, but Soroka didn't just meet the challenge, he exceeded all expectations. When the dust settled, he had put up a 2.75 ERA in 153.2 innings with nearly identical strikeout and walk numbers that he put up in Rome. It was clear that Soroka was on the fast track now.

2018 saw Mike dominate the early portion of the season in Gwinnett before the Braves made the call to bring Soroka up to the majors. Soroka was good through his first five starts in the big leagues before a shoulder injury caused him to miss the rest of the season and this is when the trouble started.

The rollercoaster career of Michael Soroka

The 2019 season was the high point of Soroka's career up until now. Showing no ill effects from the injury to a muscle in his shoulder from the previous season, Soroka would finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in the Cy Young after putting up a 2.68 ERA in 174.2 innings of work. He was an All-Star and considered one of the best young pitchers in the game. All was going great.

Sadly, the biggest challenge was yet to come as Soroka tore his Achilles early in the 2020 season in what looked like a freak accident trying to field a grounder. These sorts of injuries are brutal, but there wasn't any reason to think that Soroka couldn't bounce back. His work ethic is widely known as unrivaled and there were no issues with his arm.

First, there was a setback where his body rejected the sutures from the surgery which resulted in a clean-up procedure. Then, not long after he started walking without a boot, Soroka tore his Achilles AGAIN just walking to the clubhouse. No warning and not doing anything just tore again. All of a sudden, we were in uncharted territory.

Two Achilles injuries to the same player, especially that close together, is not something anyone has much experience with. Jake Burger is the closest example, but he is a hitter and that is a different set of challenges. No one knew if Soroka would ever be the same guy he was or if he would even be able to make it back to the major leagues again. This is the type of injury that can end a career.

Undaunted, Maple Maddux got back to work.

Despite doing everything right, Soroka's future with the Braves is in jeopardy

As the seasons went by, Soroka took the opportunity that his rehab provided to rework his delivery from top to bottom. The goal was to get back in game shape, but also have his mechanics in a place to allow him to stay healthy over the long term. He put in the time and worked with the medical staff, coaches, and trainers constantly to get back where he needed to be.

By the end of 2022, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and Soroka went out on rehab assignment to much celebration. The results weren't amazing at Gwinnett during his rehab stint, but that he was back at all was an accomplishment and many thought that he was going to have a great shot at rejoining the Braves' rotation in 2023.

Then Soroka suffered a hamstring injury in spring training and was out to start the season. His return would have to wait. Again.

He made his way back to Gwinnett and after needing some time to knock off the rust, he was pitching well and made his return to the big leagues. Fans know the rest of the story: Soroka had to leave his September start early with numbness in his hand and inflammation in his elbow. He is now back on the injured list yet again with his future again in doubt.

It is heartbreaking to see how Soroka's career has gone to this point. Here is a guy who puts in the work, does what he is supposed to, and takes care of himself, but seems completely snakebit when it comes to injuries. Instead of being a cornerstone of the Braves' rotation, there is a real chance that he gets non-tendered by the Braves this offseason. They love him, but they can't seem to keep him on the mound.

The laws of physics are not kind to baseball players' bodies and baseball just isn't fair sometimes. That doesn't make it hurt any less. However, despite all of that and given everything Soroka has been through up until now, I still wouldn't bet against him.

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