Chad Sobotka was almost a complete unknown before his MLB promotion in August. He had the physical profile, he had the velocity, but he didn’t have the status. In the Braves’ esteemed system, it’s easy to slip through the cracks.
The towering righty didn’t stay hidden for much longer: He struck out 21 hitters across 14 games, allowing just three earned runs. Sobotka earned a place on the Braves’ postseason roster. He entered this spring vying for role in the later innings, where his 6-foot-7 frame and high-90s fastball would, as they say, play well.
All that for a guy who was in minor-league camp last spring. Turns out, Sobotka excels with the under-the-radar label.
“My whole life it’s been like that,” he said. “From high school to college and even in pro ball, I always feel like I’ve kind of been behind a lot of people Last year I surprised a lot of people.”
Sobotka has appeared in four games this spring – two yielding good results, two more forgettable. His most recent outing falls under the latter, when Aaron Judge took him deep.
But Sobotka has felt healthy and comfortable in his first big-league spring. He spent the offseason in Piedmont, South Carolina, and worked out at trainer Scott Littlejohn’s Flight School in Anderson.
There Sobotka focused on his strength and explosiveness. He also found his sweet spot at 235-240 pounds.
“If I can stay around that, still be lean and still be lanky, everything feels well,” he said. “I feel great. I couldn’t be in a better situation.”
Sobotka, whom the Braves took in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, defined his 2017 as “terrible.” Across two levels, he produced a 6.09 ERA with a 52:32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57-2/3 innings. Understandably, he wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect at that point.
“I tried to make some adjustments (changing his slider grip) that allow me to do some things, and it just didn’t work out,” he said. “I knew I had the ability in me. I’m just glad the Braves gave me another shot to come back in 2018 — not to prove everyone wrong, but prove them right, show them why they took me in the draft when I was hurt. It’s an awesome feeling and hopefully I can build off that.”
As Sobotka focused more on his body the past couple of years, his velocity increased. His “stuff” has always been there; for him, it was a matter of confidence.
He credits the Braves’ analytics team for proving he has a strong repertoire. He figured out he didn’t always need to be perfect – that simple mental difference, he said, helped his ascension take off.
“It’s crazy what a (difference) a year can make,” Sobotka said. “I reflect what I did well last year. Everything did kind of click for me. I look back and realize how far of a jump I made, what was the biggest difference in me. Basically it came out to my confidence in myself and my abilities. I found out the pitcher I was.
“Even in the majors, I told myself not to change anything. I’m meant to be here. They called me up for a reason.”
It remains to be seen how Sobotka will fit into the team’s plans. Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter, when healthy, figure to share closer duties. Sobotka could certainly work his way into that mix, but the task at hand is simply making the ballclub.
“It’s a great feeling to be here, and I’m trying to do everything I can to make the team,” Sobotka said.
And given how he’s progressed in two seasons, he might become an even more valuable asset for a Braves bullpen that would welcome more flamethrowers.