Atlanta Braves Scouting Report on Pitcher Chad Sobotka

Aug 20, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) kicks dirt on the mound in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves transitioned towering RHP Chad Sobotka to the bullpen in 2016. Can he be an impact reliever?

Who Is He?

Sobotka was drafted by the Braves in the 4th round in 2014 out of small school University of South Carolina Upstate. While he had a lot of upside as a pitcher, he had a stress fracture in his back, and he did not pitch as a professional in 2014.

Sobotka debuted in 2015 with low-A Rome, a pretty aggressive start for a pitcher with no professional experience. He was injured in late June and worked his way back in late August to finish out the season. His numbers on the season look quite poor, but it really comes from two very poor starts that totaled 11 earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. Overall, his numbers were 15 games, 9 starts, 37 innings, 6.32 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, and a 22/22 BB/K ratio.

Sobotka started 2016 on the disabled list and did not make his season debut until the season was already a month old. He was making the transition to the bullpen full-time already, but his injury history has really sealed his fate in his role. Sobotka’s promotion to high-A Carolina may have seemed odd at the time, as he sat with a 4.26 ERA at the time, but his performance at Carolina was so outstanding that he earned a late-year promotion to AA Mississippi, where he threw well in the playoffs for Mississippi, totaling 5 1/3 innings with 5 hits, no earned runs, and a 3/4 BB/K rate in the playoffs.

Overall, Sobotka’s line in 2016 across three levels was 30 games, 38 2/3 innings, 3.03 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and a 15/45 BB/K ratio.

Scouting Report

Size/Delivery

Sobotka is listed at 6’7 and 200 pounds. He’s long-legged and lean, though I’d say 200 is on the light side, by probably 15-20 pounds even. He works exclusively from the stretch out of the bullpen.

From the stretch, Sobotka brings his left knee chest high and twists his left hip in, giving him just a moment of hesitation before he delivers to the plate. He then takes a long stride toward home plate, open just a hair toward first base in his landing spot before delivering with a high 3/4 to almost pure overhand delivery.

How much that arm slot contributed to his back injury from college or his shoulder issues that delayed the start to his 2016 season is anyone’s guess, but I did note that when he misses his landing spot, his torque doesn’t get focused on his arm or shoulder, it seems to focus in his back.

Pitches

Sobotka uses a fastball that sits 92-95 and touched 97 in one appearance out of the bullpen after sitting about 90-94 and touching 95-96 as a starter in 2015. The ball has some arm-side tail moving in on right-handed hitters and sink as well. He does feature a four-seam and a two-seam fastball both, but he works predominantly with the two-seam fastball. The four-seam fastball is more straight in its actions, but I did note that it also seemed to sit more at the top end of his velocity, so it may be a pitch he throws to “air it out”, as he often uses it as an eye-adjuster, throwing it up n the zone with peak velocity.

His slider sits in the 79-82 range, and in reviewing his 2015 starts that I could find against the 2016 games, it was notable how much the slider has come along. He had a 6-12 inch break from the 2015 video I watched, but frequently, he would get over a foot drop in the ball that truly baffled hitters and became a strikeout pitch for him, something he simply didn’t feature as a starter. He does still not quite seem to have a hang on his increased break, and when featuring the pitch more in the middle of the zone, he’ll leave the ball higher than he should, allowing it to get driven. Overall, it was one of the more impressive sliders I’ve seen in the Braves system this season.

Last is his change, which worked in the 82-85 range in games that gave velocities that I saw, but it was a pitch that he used infrequently out of the bullpen. I got better looks at the pitch in 2015 views, and it’s not a bad pitch, but it does have a lot of work needed, so it would not be surprising if he ends up polishing it just enough to be a “show me” third pitch to keep hitters honest and off of his other offerings.

Video


Future Outlook

I’ve used this comp on guys many times before, but I really feel that he is a great guy to match with Sobotka due to size, repertoire, and even with current/future role. Braves fans may have mixed feelings on Derek Lowe, but he was a guy who was able to have 17 seasons in the major leagues. He started in the major leagues primarily as a reliever for his first five seasons, making just 22 starts in 298 appearances.

Lowe was similar in size to Sobotka when he came up at 6’6 and 230 pounds, so there’s similarity there, but the big similarity is in their pitch selection as Lowe featured a heavy fastball and a slider as his primary weapons out of the bullpen, polishing his change to move to the rotation in 2002 and stay there as a workhorse ground ball pitcher for 10 seasons before coming to the end of his career.

I’m not sure if health will allow Sobotka to return to a starting role, but in a relief role, there’s no reason he couldn’t be similar to Lowe in results, and Lowe was a dominant closer for the Red Sox that saved 85 games with a 2.89 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with a 76/241 BB/K ratio over 292 1/3 IP but also an excellent 0.6 HR/9 ratio.

At his size and with the downward plane of the slider and fastball, Sobotka should have a solid floor as a ground-ball specialist in the major leagues. However, the way his slider has played up out of the bullpen, I really could see him as a future back-end reliever in the bullpen, possibly being an effective 8th/9th inning guy that keeps the ball on the ground when he isn’t striking them out.

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