I live in Atlanta, Georgia. Being a minor league writer is very tough because there isn’t a team less than an hour away from me. There’s a lot of travel involved when I don’t want to watch a prospect on MiLB.TV and in person.
That being said, when I drive to a game — especially one that is featuring two of the more highly touted pitching prospects in Low-A ball — I have high expectations.
I went to Rome Monday night, excited to see the Rome Braves Mike Soroka and West Virginia Power’s Mitch Keller duke it out. Instead I watched a game that 13 combined runs were scored.
Looking at the box score, neither Soroka nor Keller were at their best, but I was able to walk away with positives on both sides.
Mike Soroka, the Braves 18-year old right hander, was selected in the first round last year. He has had a very strong full-season debut despite an unlucky win loss record of 3-9. Heading into last night’s action he had a 3.30 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and and an 83-to-21 strikeout-to-walk mark though his first 101 innings.
Last night’s line was his worst of the season, as he only lasted 3.2 innings, his shortest outing of 2016. He was a victim of some wildness and bad luck with two costly errors leading to three unearned runs. After walking five batters over his last four starts, Soroka issued a season high five free passes, while striking out four.
Despite allowing seven hits, the first six were not hard hit balls, slipping through the infield by a matter of inches. He came out firing his fastball at 93 miles per hour and maintained that throughout his outing, mixing in an 82 mile per hour curve and an 80 mile per hour change.
His first inning was impressive. He allowed a leadoff single. Two batters later, he would have runners on first and third. He would eliminate the runner on first with a sweet pickoff move, and a pitch later, would strikeout Logan Hill swinging, stranding a runner on third. I liked the poise I saw from the young pitcher under duress. He then came out in the second inning, throwing seven of his first eight pitches for balls. He would walk the bases loaded, something he did three innings in a row.
Surprisingly, Soroka could have gotten out of two of the jams were it not for costly, run scoring errors by third baseman Kevin Josephina (who would atone for those costly mistakes with a game tying, two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth). After the first error, Soroka got mad and struck out the next two batters. The second time was much different, as Soroka looked a bit dejected and once again walked the bases loaded.
Soroka landed just 57 percent of his pitches for strikes on the evening, but he really didn’t miss badly any time. Again, the damage could have been more controlled because he wasn’t hit hard. He induced four ground ball outs to two fly outs (pop outs actually) and only a Logan Ratledge double in the fourth was hit with authority.
His opponent posted his second consecutive outing in which he didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Mitch Keller is the 20-year old Pittsburgh Pirates right handed pitching prospect selected in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He was having a sensational 2016 heading into Monday night’s bout, sitting at 6-5 with a 2.70 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP, behind a simply amazing 98-to-14 strikeout-to-walk rate over his first 93.1 innings.
The righty came out firing, hitting 96 on the radar. He seemed to throw a lot of fastballs all night, and in the first inning, the Braves made him work. Undrafted second baseman Darien McLemore worked an 11-pitch walk after Keller struck out the leadoff hitter Ray-Patrick Diddier looking. He threw 13 strikes and 11 balls, but came out of the inning unscathed.
He threw a solid second inning — 11 strikes to just four balls — and looked like he was cruising until Austin Riley went the other way to drive in two in the third. The fourth inning would see a slight dip in his velocity as he came across at 93 consistently. He must have been told the fifth inning was his last, because he came out firing one again, hitting 94 and 95 several times. His breaking stuff did him in in his final inning as he was landing his fastball but missing — and like Soroka, not by much — with his off speed offerings.
Keller’s final line was pretty similar to Soroka’s. He went 4.1 innings and threw 89 pitches, landing 56 for strikes. He struck out just two and walked two and was around the strike zone, even when he missed, most of the night. Neither were hit very hard, and a few misplayed balls were the difference between a good outing and a forgettable one.
I wanted to see an elite pitcher’s duel, maybe 1-0, 2-1 something like that. The night turned out a bit differently, as I watched Rome’s third baseman Kevin Josephina tie the game with his first SAL home run of his career — the aforementioned two-run dinger in the bottom of the eighth — and .235-hitting right fielder Justin Ellison deliver the walk off single in the bottom of the ninth to send the Rome Braves to the clubhouse victorious 7-6.
And that, my friends, is why I love minor league baseball.