Braves ‘fast-forward’ 19-year-old pitchers Allard, Soroka
PEARL, Miss. (AP) Kolby Allard grabs the return throw from his catcher and then quickly steps back on the rubber to get his next sign. The 19-year-old Atlanta Braves prospect pitches with a swift pace – almost bordering on impatience – that suggests there’s somewhere else he’d rather be.
Even as a teenager, he’s in a hurry to get to Atlanta.
”Like our pitching coordinator always says, they don’t check your ID when you go to the big leagues,” Allard said. ”Age is just a number for me.”
The Atlanta Braves apparently agree. They’ve been willing to aggressively promote some of their best young prospects when the opportunity arises. Two of the Mississippi Braves’ starting pitchers – Allard and fellow 19-year-old Mike Soroka – are among the youngest players in Double-A, competing against players who more typically range from 21 to 26 years old.
Dave Trembley, director of player development, said a combination of ability and poise made the Braves comfortable pushing Allard and Soroka. Both were first-round draft picks in 2015.
”They’ve got a maturity level that goes beyond their chronological age,” Trembley said. ”We knew they wouldn’t be intimidated. They wouldn’t be in awe. They wouldn’t have to be something other than what they already are.”
So far, the Braves’ confidence has been rewarded. The youngsters have been dominant in Double-A: Allard has a 1.29 ERA in four starts while Soroka has a 1.62 ERA in three starts and 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings.
The big-league Braves could use an infusion of young arms. They currently have Bartolo Colon, 43, and R.A. Dickey, 42, in the starting rotation, and the team’s 4.25 ERA ranks 12th among 15 National League teams.
Soroka acknowledges he was surprised when the Braves told him he’d be in Double-A, but was also confident he was ready. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Canadian right-hander says there’s no secret recipe when pitching at a higher level.
”They have trust in us because they know we’re going to pound the zone, throw strikes and we’re not going to back down,” Soroka said.
Allard doesn’t particularly look like a pitching phenom at first glance. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left-hander from California isn’t physically imposing. In a recent start his fastball was consistently between 90-93 miles per hour and he had excellent command of all his pitches, moving the ball around the strike zone to keep hitters off balance.
”Everyone throws hard these days,” Allard said. ”It’s honestly about where you put it, making the ball move and changing speeds. I’m still learning that. I’m not perfect by any means. I’m just out there trying to execute my pitches.”
Allard and Soroka are part of a talented Braves farm system that has been consistently rated among the best in baseball. Other young players have advanced quickly through the system over the past few years, including middle infielder Ozzie Albies, who is now in Triple-A after starting Double-A last year at 19.
John Hart, the Braves president of baseball operations, said it’s been fun to watch the organization’s prospects march toward the big leagues. The plan is for Allard, Soroka, Albies and others to bring an infusion of talent that could help push Atlanta back into baseball’s elite.
It might not always be smart to push prospects too fast through the minor leagues. But with this group, Hart feels confident the Braves are doing the right thing.
”We don’t expect them to be perfect,” Hart said. ”There’s probably going to be some bumps in the road. We expect it. But one of the reasons we were able to fast-forward these guys is because we feel they can handle that type of adversity if in fact they get banged a couple of times.”
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this story.
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