* Mike Soroka, who competed at Tournament 12 in Toronto last week, has been busy excelling with the Canadian Junior National Team, and the 17-year-old is looking forward to continuing his gains as he heads into his draft year in 2015. (Photo: Baseball Canada). ….

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By Alexis Brudnicki

Ranked among the top pitchers of the next Canadian draft class, Mike Soroka has come a long way over the last few years.

The 17-year-old right-hander has grown in every aspect of the word, on the field, off the field, away from baseball and more, and he’s ready for the next step as he approaches next year’s draft selection and his first potential opportunity to take his career further.

“Not just physically, but mentally I think I’ve made the biggest developments,” Soroka said. “Learning that you can make a pitch and get anybody out, it doesn’t matter who you are. That’s a huge one.”

Sticking to a regimented off-season training program has helped Soroka over each of the past couple of winters, with the 6-foot-4, 195-pound hurler seeing increases in his strength and his velocity heading into each new season.

“I top out around 90 or maybe 91 and usually sit around 86 to 88 (MPH),” Soroka said. “When I was 13 and starting I was around 70, at 14 I was probably around 75, and then the year after I got bigger and stronger. I grew about eight inches that year and gained about 10 MPH. I went from about 75 to 85 in that off-season.”

After the most recent winter, the young pitcher once again saw a huge difference, but this time in other areas.

“I’ve been weight lifting in the off-season and put on about 25 pounds so that was big, and I saw some numbers go up,” Soroka said. “I felt myself getting stronger and with that came more confidence. You feel more confident on the mound making pitches, but there’s only so much you can do in the weight room …

“I’m looking forward to another off-season, just getting back in the weight room and getting stronger and working to be that much better by the time the draft happens.”

Having been on six trips with the Canadian Junior National Team and most recently to La Paz and Los Cabos, Mex. for the COPABE 18U Pan American championship, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, Greg Hamilton, has gotten to know the young righty and is excited for what he can become.

“He’s got the potential to have a really bright future,” Hamilton said. “From a physicality perspective, he’s got everything you’re looking for in a projectable pitcher – frame, body; the arm works really clean and effortlessly. There’s arm strength and arm quickness. He projects to be a big, strong, physical kid with an arm that really works …

“He’s a legitimate prospect going forward, both collegiately and professionally. We’re going to go step by step and very patiently, but he’s got the potential to have a very promising future.”

Soroka has earned the opportunity to play on some big stages already, impressing at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif. just before joining the Canadian juniors and putting his name on the map at the inaugural Tournament 12 at Rogers Centre. He is excited to now be in his draft year, working hard and waiting to see what might happen.

“I feel great,” the Calgary native said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Well, you can get drafted three times but having the opportunity means a lot. But you can’t really worry about who’s watching. You’ve got to expect that people are watching and just go out there, pitch by pitch, and get outs.”

After seeing some of his friends and teammates go through the draft process earlier in the year, Soroka has a better idea of how it works and has learned to set his expectations accordingly.

“There were a couple of things that I didn’t know could go on in the draft,” Soroka said. “I found out a little better how slot money worked and all of that. I mostly talked with Zach [Pop] about his situation and he told me a lot of things that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. It’s great to see some of my buddies go through the process before me.”

– Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis