|Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter|
In what would become Frank Wren’s final draft with the Atlanta Braves, the team went pitcher-heavy early with college arms. They took the freakishly tall Max Povse in the third round and in the fifth round, landed productive Miami Hurricanes lefty Chris Diaz. Between those picks, with the 133rd overall selection, the Braves went with a righty from the small University of South Carolina Upstate, Chad Sobotka. A year later, the Braves would make a similar selection – though with much higher expectations – when they picked A.J. Minter. Both pitchers were coming off significant injuries, but each had the potential to be big bullpen players for future Braves’ teams.
Born July 10, 1993, Sobotka was raised in Sarasota, Florida, where he attended Riverview High School. After not receiving much of a look coming out of high school, he landed with the Spartans under Matt Fincher. The righty quickly impressed with plus-velocity and a pretty good idea of where the ball was headed – especially for a freshman – and became the team’s closer. In 25 games, the youngest pitcher on the team notched 12 saves with a 1.74 ERA and over a strikeout an inning. The following season wasn’t as impressive as he ran into a few control issues, but he still saved seven more games. That may not seem like a lot, but after just two years on campus, Sobotka was one save away from tying the school record.
After his sophomore season, Sobotka went to the Cape Cod League and impressed scouts with his power. He returned to campus with hopes for another big year and possibly a saves record, but a stress fracture in his back put him on the mend. He would miss his entire junior season. That didn’t stop the Braves from using the 133rd overall pick on him, though, and unlike many Wren-era picks, this was not a safe selection nor a pick the Braves failed to get good value on. The injury concerns alone were an issue for the Braves, but the value on drafting Sobotka was solid with Baseball America attached a 115th overall ranking for the righty while Keith Law ranked him the 66th best prospect coming into the draft. Sobotka remains the highest-selected player from South Carolina Upstate.
Sobotka would only rehab during his first professional season. When 2015 hit, the then-21 year-old opened the season in Rome. He was given extensive work as a starter with little success. The belief among fans wasn’t that the Braves felt Sobotka was a starting prospect, but were trying to give him innings in an easy-to-regulate manner. His first taste of professional ball was interrupted twice by DL stints – one two games into the season and the other coming in mid-June. That one put him on the shelf for two months. Overall, including three rehab games with GCL and Danville, Sobotka’s first season was a disappointment. He appeared 15 times with a 6.32 ERA with as many walks as strikeouts (22).
But that wasn’t disheartening. After all, Sobotka was able to stay healthy enough to log 37 innings. That was 37 more than the previous year. When 2016 came, Sobotka was given a return assignment with Rome. The season got off to a rough start as he left his first outing after just three batters with an injury that would keep him out a month. Returning in May, his put up seven consecutive scoreless appearances and ten innings in total before getting off to a poor start in June. He was able to turn the corner for a pair of outings in the final few days of the month where he K’d 5 batters in three innings. He earned his promotion to Carolina where he would pitch wonderfully. He had one iffy game in which he gave up three runs, but outside of that, he was nearly untouchable. His control, which wavered from time-to-time in Rome, was spot-on in Carolina (three walks in 17.2 ING). He even clinched his first three professional saves and after two months in Carolina, Sobotka was promoted to Mississippi. He pitched twice there with a pair of perfect frames and stayed with the team for the playoff run, where he tossed 5.1 scoreless innings.
A lot was hoped for in regards to Sobotka as 2017 opened. He was one of many relief arms looking to open some eyes and push their way into the major league picture, but this season just hasn’t gone his way. He’s been scored on in just over half of his 18 appearances with Mississippi and over his final eleven games in Double-A, things got really bad. He allowed 17 runs in 16.2 innings with more walks (12) than strikeouts). His last three were especially ugly. He retired just nine batters while allowing seven runs to score. His struggles came to a head on Friday when he was demoted to Florida. His first outing there was a good one. He gave up a single, but struck out two over one inning.
Sobotka throws out of a high 3/4’s delivery and definitely has the velocity to be a power reliever with a mid-90’s heat. He throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball with the latter allowing him to uncover some added velocity and the ability to pitch up-in-the-zone. However, his bread-and-butter is a two-seam fastball that while it doesn’t have a lot of movement on it, because of his height (6’6″) and high release, the ball has the impression of some good sink on it. The slider, which is featured on the GIF to the side from a game a week ago, seems to drop off the cliff as it reaches the batter when he’s on. When he’s not, it gets very flat. Sobotka also has a changeup from his starter days, but most of the time, he’s humming fastballs into the zone to set up the slider.
The big righty lacks the press that his current teammate A.J. Minter has. Both had similar beginnings with the Braves, but Minter has higher grades. Just the same, Sobotka has a good chance to rise in this system. He’s got the arsenal to develop into a high-leverage reliever. All it will come down to is consistency in his delivery, trusting his stuff, and maybe most importantly – staying on the mound. If he can do that, he’ll be back on track and moving up the system.