Think of the thinnest things you know. Like the average supermodel, your bank account the day before payday, Doug Ford’s knowledge of government, or your average safety razor. That appears to be the margin between success and failure for RHP Andrew Sopko, acquired along with 2B Ronnie Brito from the Dodgers this weekend for Russell Martin.
A 2015 7th round pick from Gonzaga, Sopko appeared to be on the fast track. By his second season, the Dodgers had aggressively promoted him as far as AA. In 2017, he repeated the Texas League with mixed results, but the Dodgers thought enough of him to send him to the Arizona Fall League. 2018 saw him start the season in High A, and while he reached AA once more by mid-season, Sopko appeared to be an odd man out in the Dodgers’ deep farm system.
From Baseball America‘s draft report on Sopko:
Sopko has reached 94 mph in the past and, at times, sports an above-average slider as well out of a three-quarters arm slot. Most of the time, though, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder pitches with a fringe-average heater from 88-92 mph with just so-so life and has to be fine with it.
After the 2016 season, BA named him the Dodger’s 26th-best prospect:
Sopko stands out more for his pitchability than his pure stuff. Sopko lacks a plus pitch, but he’s able to command his arsenal, hit his spots, moves the ball around the zone and change speeds. He works off a fastball that sits at 89-92 mph and can hit 94. It’s not overpowering, but he pounds the zone and attacks hitters on the inner third.
But after reaching the dizzying heights of AA in 2016, his career has stalled. The mistakes that he made in Low and High A were getting fairly regularly barreled by AA hitters in the following two seasons. Still, after his June promotion back to AA this year, Sopko appeared to have mastered his command, and was getting hitters out on a more regular basis. A look at his first three starts for the Dodgers Texas League Tulsa affiliate would suggest that:
Sopko relies on getting ahead of hitters, but Texas Leaguers began to lay off his first pitch offerings, which were usually fastballs just off the outside edge. Later in the count, he had to catch more of the plate, and paid the price, giving up 18 earned runs over his next 18.1 innings after those first three solid outings, covering 4 starts. As a result, Sopko found himself in the Tulsa bullpen for much of August before returning to the rotation at the end of the season.
Sopko does not have premium velocity, sitting 88-92, and at 23, there’s little room to add to that. His mechanics are clean, and he has a bit of deception with a slight back turn. He throws an 11-5 curve and a slurvy slider to right-handed hitters along with his fastball, saving the slider mostly for righties, and the curve/change as his secondaries to left-handed hitters. He can throw all of his pitches for strikes, but they grade as fringe average, and he lacks a true out pitch. His fastball is said to have little movement, but he does work well down in the zone with it.
When Sopko was ahead in the count this year, AA hitters managed only a .241 average against him. When he was behind, they tuned him at a .468 clip. Sopko pitches more to contact, and a sampling of three starts for Tulsa this year showed some hard contact. He did have a little trouble with the long ball this year, but generally when he’s working effectively down in the zone he can be tough to elevate. It probably didn’t help that the defence behind him led the league in errors.
Sopko is the kind of guy you find at the back of a rotation, and he profiles more as minor league depth than MLB guy at this point of his career. At the same time, a guy who can pound the bottom part of the strike zone like he can at times has some room for growth, but it will be a matter of consistency with his fastball. Some more movement on that pitch would help as well – Sopko gets a good downward plane on it, but it seems to be fairly straight for the most part.
He has a starter’s mix of pitches, but would have trouble getting hitters out third time through the order. If he reaches MLB, it would be more in a long relief or emergency starter role. Assigned to Buffalo, it’s likely he begins the season there.