Canadian pitcher Mike Soroka found success quickly in his first full season in the major leagues last year.
But for the 22-year-old Calgary native, there was nothing sudden — or surprising — about how his 2019 panned out.
"I don't want to sound like I expected it, but I do understand what I'm capable of when I am at my best," the Atlanta Braves right-hander said in a recent phone interview with The Canadian Press. "I understand that if I'm able to do all the things I need to make things work for me, I can have success at the highest level.
"And that's the confidence you have to have — because that's the confidence you're playing against."
Soroka, an all-star last season who finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, reports to the Braves' new spring training facility in North Port, Fla., on Wednesday along with the rest of Atlanta's pitchers and catchers.
The Canadian gave himself a bit of a head start though, heading down to Florida a month ago after spending most of his winter back in Calgary.
"I like to get home for a couple months and enjoy that Alberta weather," Soroka said with a laugh. "But coming down here is kinda the kickstart to my year and it's my time to really focus on all the things I need to do."
Right now that focus is on preparing for 2020, with the hopes he can carry over his success from a 2019 season that saw him go 13-4 through 29 starts — helping the Braves to first place in the National League East — while amassing a 2.68 earned-run average that ranked third in the NL.
He'd also like another crack at the playoffs after starting his first — and so far only — career post-season game last year.
Soroka was dominant in his Game 3 start against St. Louis in the NL Division Series, allowing just one run and two hits while striking out seven in a 3-1 win. But The Braves went on to lose the series with 13-1 defeat in the deciding fifth game.
"I wouldn't say it's getting over anything, but you gotta process what happened," Soroka said of the sting of losing the series. "Whenever something like that happens, especially the way that game did, everybody wants to point fingers and make excuses. But that's baseball. The guys on the other side are getting paid a lot of money to win too and someone has to win.
"So mainly you come out of that knowing what it feels like to lose in a big situation and I think all it really does is add fuel for next time."
Soroka made his MLB debut in 2018, starting strong through five games before a shoulder injury shelved him for the rest of that season.
Being forced away from the game so soon after his debut was tough for a then 20-year-old Soroka. But he said that injury helped him appreciate 2019 even more.
"Being in rehab for your arm for the whole second half of a year, after doing that all I really wanted was to have a healthy season and I knew if I could do that I could be in the big leagues," Soroka said. "So looking back, there were a lot of cool moments (in 2019) — pitching in the playoffs, going to the all-star game — and I was able to look back and realize it was the same process I've been doing for so long.
"I think to a lot of people, it looked like a quick ascent to the major leagues, but it doesn't necessarily feel that way to me because I put in the work and effort every day from start to finish ... So I wasn't surprised at how (2019 turned out). But it was definitely nice to get that boost early in my career, that's for sure."
Soroka has emerged as the headliner for a new crop of young Canadian talent that appears poised to break out with major league success.
Right-hander Cal Quantrill of Port Hope, Ont., and first baseman Josh Naylor of Toronto, who both debuted with the San Diego Padres last season, will be others to watch this spring.
"Hopefully the talent level and the numbers of Canadians in the majors just keeps elevating," Soroka said. "I think as Canadian players we have a certain duty in Major League Baseball to represent and wave that flag and make sure people know.
"I've made sure my clubhouse knows, that's for sure. I wear my Canadian stuff around and when you play in Toronto and they start the Canadian anthem all your teammates are looking at you because they know that's your anthem. And that's something I hope more guys get to experience."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2020.
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press