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Detroit Tigers 2021 Roster Preview: Gregory Soto

Aug 29, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Gregory Soto yells out in celebration after the game against the Minnesota Twins on Jackie Robinson Day at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Gregory Soto yells out in celebration after the game against the Minnesota Twins on Jackie Robinson Day at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /
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Last year, I wrote up Gregory Soto for our 2020 roster preview for the 40-man Detroit Tigers roster preview and as I am typing this sentence, I feel that I am writing up a completely different pitcher.

This was “my take” in 2020.

“He does have a minor league opinion so starting him exclusively in the bullpen in Toledo would be the best bet. If Soto can build off his winter league appearance with Aguilas in which he struck out 16 in 11 innings pitched and only allowed four walks, the Tigers could have a solid bullpen depth arm just down the road in Toledo.”

Of course, I wrote that right before COVID hit but I wanted to own up that like many others, did not see the power arm become a strong bullpen piece.

Contract Status:

Soto is arbitration-eligible in 2023.

Gregory Soto’s Game:

He added a ring to his resume as he helped las Aguilas Cibaeñas win their 22nd championship earlier this month. While he did not pitch in the championship series to focus on getting ready for spring training,  Soto helped las Aguilas get to the Serie Final.

https://twitter.com/CespedesBBQ/status/1348083967006810113?s=20

The change to his windup combined with Detroit having him giving him a defined role out of the bullpen versus coming up as a starter in 2019 may have helped Soto just start airing it out. The results spoke for themselves. In his first 10 appearances: 10.1IP 4H 2BB 14SO 0ER and was throwing strikes at a 63% clip.

He also abanded his changeup and stuck with a four-seam fastball, sinker, and this pretty good looking slider. He recently told the Freep.com Evan Petzold that he spent time in winter ball working on his slider.

“I wanted to be comfortable and have trust to throw it in any corner of the plate or any pitch count or any situation of the game,” Soto said. “I worked very hard on that. I want to keep myself aware that I can use the slider anytime I want. … My slider, I consider it very good. It’s just a matter of confidence and trust.”

His slider was his best pitch, resulting in batters hitting just .056 against it and Whiff% of 61% and allowing just one hit however, it was inconsistent, which resulted in his walk rate (13.3%).

The six runs that were scored off Soto should come as no surprise to anyone who witnesses the juggernaut offense that was the Chicago White Sox in 2020.  While his ERA is listed at 4.30, his xERA was 3.70 which is as defined by MLB.com as

Expected ERA, or xERA, is a simple 1:1 translation of Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA), converted to the ERA scale. xwOBA takes into account the amount of contact (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch) and the quality of that contact (exit velocity and launch angle), in an attempt to credit the pitcher or hitter for the moment of contact, not for what might happen to that contact thanks to other factors like ballpark, weather, or defense.

In other words, the lower xERA gives a better idea of who he was as a pitcher as it factors in hits, walks, home runs allowed, and K’s. Regardless, Soto provided the Tigers bullpen a power lefty who was averaging 97 MPH with his fastball that provided a spin rate around the 82% percentile.

ZiPS Projections

FanGraphs’s ZiPS projects Soto’s season to go like this. 61.7 IP K per 9 of 9.05 and a BB per 9 of 6.42 and an ERA of 5.11. As I stated before, this is not an exact science, it is a projection.

My Take:

Soto has not been told what his role might be in the bullpen but whether it’s competing for the closer’s role or the setup man, but as long as he can cut down his walk rate, he should be a favorite to win the position out of spring training.

His journey started when he signed as an international signing in 2012.  Credit to his work ethic the past two winters to transition from a starter to a bullpen arm, which is not an easy thing to adjust to. He has the potential this season to be the first All-Star left-hander along with Tarik Skubal since Justin Thompson back in 1997 that came through the farm system.

All the talk has been the future with all the current prospects and rightfully so. But as Evan Woodbury points out astutely, Soto was acquired for a modest sum and without much fanfare. What helps a 40-man roster is when signings like this pay off and it seems Soto is on his way.

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