Calgary’s Michael Soroka saw it all in his eight years in the Atlanta Braves organization.
After being drafted in the first round, 28th overall by the club in 2015, there were high expectations of the 6-foot-5, 225-pound hurler.
He quickly ascended up the depth chart and became part of the rotation in 2019, where he put together an All-Star calibre season.
However, injuries plagued Soroka for the next few seasons, forcing him to spend most of his time in rehabilitation or the minor leagues.
After finally getting to start in a few games in 2023, the right-hander entered the offseason knowing he was only on a one-year contract, and questions lingered about what his future with the Braves would hold.
Fans finally received their answer on Nov. 16th when Soroka was traded to the Chicago White Sox as part of a package deal that included pitchers Jared Shuster and Riley Gowens, as well as infielders Nicky Lopez and Braden Shewmake. The Braves received lefthanded reliever Aaron Bummer in exchange.
Two days after the deal, Soroka took to social media to share a couple of notes.
One was to Braves fans, thanking them for embracing him from the beginning, adding he was proud to represent the city of Atlanta, adding he “made sure to lay it on the line every time out.”
“It has been a ride to say the least,” Soroka wrote.
“Thank you to everyone who believed in me, and continues to believe in me to learn and fight through the difficulties that this game brings.”
While the Braves get a southpaw to help them contend for another World Series championship, the White Sox get several pieces to add to their everyday roster, including Soroka, who looks to benefit from the change of scenery.
THE HOT START
A graduate of the PBF (Calgary) Redbirds and Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team, Soroka enjoyed a lot of early success with the Braves.
After posting great numbers from Rookie League all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett between 2015 and 2018, he made his MLB debut in 2018.
In five starts for the Braves, including his debut against Noah Syndergaard and the New York Mets, Soroka posted a 2-1 record with a 3.51 earned-run average, striking out 21 batters in 25-plus innings.
He officially joined the Braves rotation for good in 2019, where he thrived with a 13-4 record in 29 starts, recording a 2.68 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 174-plus innings.
An MLB All-Star selection and National League Rookie of the Year candidate, the future looked bright for the young Alberta ace.
Heading into the 2020 season, Soroka look poised to anchor a strong Braves rotation.
However, during his first start of the pandemic-abbreviated campaign on Aug. 3rd, he tumbled to the ground in pain after trying to field a ground ball.
Soroka was diagnosed with a torn Achilles tendon, which required surgery, ending his season and impacting his 2021 campaign. He re-tore the same Achilles tendon while walking back to the clubhouse later in the year, ending his 2021 season with another surgery.
With Soroka and fellow young superstar Ronald Acuna, Jr. on the bench in the dugout, the Braves went on to win the World Series in 2021.
With the motivation of wanting to win another championship, Soroka entered 2022 hoping to get back into the lineup sooner rather than later.
He enlisted the help of Bio-Kinetics 3D Research & Development in Utah to help him with a re-invention of sorts when it came to his pitching mechanics so he wouldn’t reinjure the limb.
After completing his rehabilitation, he came back in August for stints with the High-A Rome Braves and Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers, where he went a combined 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in six starts, ending the season with some elbow soreness.
Soroka admitted it was more precautionary, as he wanted to go into the off-season with a fresh slate to make it a “real off-season.”
It set the stage for a 2023 with some more expectations that he could return to his 2019 form.
BACK TO THE BIGS
Knowing that he hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2020, the Braves took a calm approach to bringing Soroka back to their rotation.
He started the 2023 season with the Stripers, going 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA in eight starts, garnering more attention with every start.
Injuries to the starting rotation may have hastened the decision, but Soroka was called up again on May 29.
1,029 days after his last MLB start, Soroka returned for a six-inning performance where he allowed four runs on five hits while walking two and striking out three in a 7-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
Soroka posted zeroes in five of his six innings, with the only blemish being a four-run fifth inning which included a three-run home run off the bat of Ryan Noda.
“To be honest with you, we could even go back to 2019 because there was no one in the stands in 2020, so it didn’t even feel like big league baseball that year,” Soroka told reporters after the outing.
“When we go back that far, yeah, it’s been a whirlwind and I’m excited to put that storyline behind us now and get back to putting up zeroes.”
However, it was an up-and-down season for Soroka and the Braves, as he spent most of the year in Triple-A, posting a 4-4 record with a 3.41 ERA in 17 starts, including being named International League Pitcher of the Month in August.
In his seven games for the Braves, he went 2-2 with a 6.40 ERA, and he was eventually shut down late in the year with elbow inflammation.
SOUTH SIDE SHOWCASE
Soroka is heading to a team that struggled mightily in 2023.
After winning the American League central crown in 2021 with outstanding pitching performances from Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, the White Sox were a .500 team in 2022 and finished last in the division this year with a 61-101 record under new manager Pedro Grifol.
Ethan Katz has been the team’s pitching coach since November of 2020 and will be joined this season by assistant pitching coach and former Edmonton Trappers pitcher Matt Wise.
White Sox GM Chris Getz says watching Soroka come back after all of his injuries gives him hope that he can be a contributing member of the pitching staff soon.
“There were certainly some moments and flashes of what Soroka was earlier in his career,” Getz said.
“Navigating a season like that after being off, it certainly can be tricky – but to have that under his belt, learning where his body is now, there is some upside there.”
In a second note he shared on social media, Soroka wrote to fans in Chicago, saying he was thrilled to move on to a new chapter with the White Sox.
“I know the difficulties I have had to work through in previous years have led me on a path to becoming the athlete I want to be, and I am excited to continue that work for the south side,” he wrote.
“Everyone involved has been very welcoming, and I can’t wait to let it eat this year for the team.”
After what can only be described as a tumultuous last few years, the Sox – along with Alberta baseball fans – are undoubtedly hoping they get to see Soroka at his best in 2024.