Entering his fourth year with the program, likely redshirt junior Luke Soroko has pitched in just four games in his Arizona Wildcats career. In his freshman season of 2014, he appeared in three games. In his sophomore season, he recorded just one out before injuring his arm and requiring Tommy John Surgery.
Tommy John Surgery has become more of a right of passage for pitchers at every level of baseball in recent years, and the Wildcats have been no exception.
With notable guys like Tyler Crawford and Mathew Troupe each going through the process at different speeds, Arizona is set to feature yet another ‘TJ Club’ guy in 2017.
“We had the same doctor,” Luke Soroko said of his reliance on Crawford to get through the rehab process. “I’d just talk to Crawford and say ‘Hey, this is kinda bothering me today, should I be alarmed? What should I do?’ and he’d mostly just say ‘Nah, it’s just part of the process, you just gotta push through it’ which I did.”
“I think without Crawford, it would have been way tougher. Just having that extra motivation and having an example of someone who’s been through it.”
Over the summer, Soroko, who did not pitch for the Wildcats at all in 2016, put up a 1.64 ERA in 43 2/3 innings, which earned him the title of Summer Pitcher of the Year.
“It was a big learning experience,” Soroko said of his experience with the Chico Heat of the Great West League. “After being out 16 months with the arm injury, it was kind of getting back in the sense of things. The first few outings were a bit rusty as you can imagine.”
The summer wasn’t the first time that Soroko had thrown against live hitting since the surgery though. As Arizona was making its way through Pac-12 play, he was starting to get back in the swing of things at practice.
“He was starting to ramp it up in April and May,” head coach Jay Johnson explained. “So we got a chance to see him throw.”
“I was doing side sessions until about early May, and then I started facing live batters a little bit,” Soroko added. “I had about three sessions of that, and then I went off to summer ball.”
“I was a little bit amped up the first few outings, just kind of missing spots and throwing as hard as I could,” he continued. “But I think I settled down and got in that pitching mentality again. Just changing speeds, hitting spots, and then realizing I can still get outs.”
“He’s a strike-thrower, he mixes, and he’s a great teammate,” Johnson added. “He added a lot to that group without being able to play last year.”
Soroko left the team for summer ball before the Wildcats had finished their season, since he was not on the travel squad.
“It was kind of weird,” he said of watching Arizona play in the Regional and Super Regional rounds from afar. “Before games, I was just in the locker room on my phone and the ESPN app just watching our guys play. I remember after Mississippi State and watching that entire game, I was Facetiming all the guys while they were still on the field.”
“It was a surreal experience, but I was just beyond proud of them, and seeing the leadership our seniors took; it was just something special and I wouldn’t mind watching it again this year.”
He did get to join the team in Omaha and take in the full College World Series experience.
After the injury, as well as the presence of new pitching coach Dave Lawn, Soroko has changed up his mechanics a bit since the last time we saw him pitch...February 14th, 2015.
“I think before the surgery I was late with my arm, and that kind of caused some of the problems,” Soroko explained. “I think I’ve developed a better changeup now. Coach Lawn really emphasizes that, so the development of that helped me greatly over the summer, and I’m looking to use it here a lot.”
That changeup is one of four pitches Soroko possesses. The others are fastball, slider, and curve.
“Right now I kind of get ahead with the slider, and then my out-pitch is my curveball,” he said about his pitches. “The curveball has definitely improved a lot since surgery. It’s gotten a lot of sharper.”
With the full summer load under his belt, and now the beginning of fall practice, Soroko says his arm is doing just fine.
“I feel great,” he explained. “No problems with the surgery, so I’m looking to make a huge impact this year.”
So what’s he looking to work on this fall before potentially making a big impact in 2017?
“Just staying consistent,” said Soroko. “I mean, the thing I struggle with from recovering at first was some days I felt great, and some days I wouldn’t, so I think arm care’s a big point of emphasis this fall.”
As long as Soroko’s able to stay healthy, it seems like he’ll be a big piece to the pitching puzzle as Arizona looks to return to Omaha in 2017.