SARASOTA, FL – Major League pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training this week. Many players will join new squads, including Missoula native Andrew Sopko, who learned this offseason how quickly things can change in pro baseball.
Sopko pitched his first four professional seasons in the Dodgers organization. And then suddenly on January 11, he was a member of the Blue Jays. Sopko and another minor league player were shipped from LA to Toronto for veteran catcher Russell Martin.
“It was just a random day, and it just happened,” said Sopko. “So it was kind of surreal and shocking. You get very comfortable with where you are at, and the people and the coaches. So now it’s kind of back to square one with a new organization.”
Sopko saw other teammates traded in the past and knew it could always happen to him. But he also understands while change can be scary, it can also work out great.
“It’s always a good thing when you’re traded for an established major leaguer,” explained Sopko. “You know that they want you. So it’s just a matter of going out there and exceeding their expectations.”
The former Missoula Maverick and Gonzaga Bulldog now joins an organization that has openly said they want to give their young pitchers a chance in the major leagues. With the Dodgers, the right-handed starter never climbed above the AA level. Now Sopko can hope for more.
“There is the possibility of upward movement, depending on how well I pitch, obviously,” said Sopko. “But with the Dodgers when they are going to the World Series every year you kind of get the sense that it’s a little harder to have that upward mobility.”
Now as he suddenly finds himself closer than ever to his dream of playing in the majors, Sopko knows he won’t be satisfied with a short stay.
“The dream is to make it,” stated Sopko. “But the dream is also to stay there and to win. I think I’m at a point where I don’t want to just make it and then I’m done. I want to make it. I want to stay. And I want to win.”
In four years in the minors, the 24-year old Sopko has a 3.61 ERA with a 27-17 record. His best attribute might be his control. He strikes out over three times as many batters as he walks.
-Derek Buerkle reporting for MTN Sports