At the park: Scouting Ashland's J.P. Sorma

Jeff Ellis got an in-person look at rising Division II MLB Draft prospect J.P. Sorma. Learn more about the potential draft sleeper.

For those who watched the NFL Draft this past weekend, I am sure you realized that talent can come from all sorts of places. It might be harder for a player to get attention when they are from the lower ranks, but it is still certainly possible. Teams are going to find talent, no matter where it is located. The NFL Draft is a mere seven rounds; its MLB counterpart was rather recently reduced to 40 rounds. In other words, major league teams will dig even deeper than their NFL counterparts.

It was interesting to be sitting in the press box on Sunday, as those who work for Ashland University discussed the football players from their school who had been invited to training camps. It is easy to understand the excitement. It was just a day after the draft and, for a Division II program, it is big news for them to get opportunities. 

I could not help but think about this as I watched J.P. Sorma, the third baseman for Ashland University. Sorma’s story, in and of itself, is one of overcoming adversity. He had been one of the top high school players in the state of Ohio and was part of a decorated recruitment class to the Ohio State University. He redshirted his first year at OSU, rather than be a backup at third base behind Jacob Bosiokovic and Nick Sergakis, both of whom I have talked about and seen in person this year. Sorma, unfortunately, got caught in a numbers game. As both of those players are still fourth-year players at the Ohio State program, it is easy to see why Sorma decided to transfer to Ashland University.

Ashland is one of the top Division II programs in the state and has produced two major league players and 26 draft picks, including one as recently as 2015. By transferring to Ashland, Sorma did not have to sit out a year, which he would have had to do if he had tried to transfer to a Division I program. The problem was that he suffered through hamstring problems and was stuck behind a veteran third baseman, as well. So, during his first year at Ashland, he appeared in just 19 games, with 31 at-bats. He started out a bit slowly to start the year, but has really exploded over the last month or so.

Sorma had completely escaped my notice, as I often am not looking at Division II players, even those near me. I was given a tip by a person I trust to check out Sorma. I was quickly intrigued when I noticed he had been a USA Today 'Player to Watch' in high school. Then I saw he had just come off a week with six doubles and seven home runs. Once he finally got the reps and broke off some of the rust, he started to put up huge numbers.

This year has basically been the first chance for Sorma to play regularly since he was a high school senior, back in 2013, and his performance has been enough to get my attention. On the year, his slash line is .386/.452/.703, with 13 homeruns and a walk to strikeout ratio of .65. The numbers alone here are pretty impressive, and even more so when you consider the last time he had a chance to play regularly. His strikeout percentage is 14% this year and his walk percentage is 9%. These are acceptable numbers. Sure, it would be better if strikeout was lower and walk was higher, but these are solid numbers. His BABIP is .387 which is, again, very encouraging, since it tends to be a great indicator for players in lower levels.

Sorma is playing third base this year, although he would more than likely project to outfield long term. He has a chance to stick at third and is a former shortstop, but the reports out of high school indicated that third and outfield were where he was heading.

Sorma is not the biggest guy, at 6’1”, but he is thick. He looks more like a football player than a baseball player. He just looks strongly built and, when you combine it with his quick wrists, it is easy to see how he has generated so much power this year. While the velocity in general is down at the D2 setting, Donges Park, where Ashland plays, is 405 to center and long down the lines, so it would be considered a pitcher's park. His power is not inflated, thanks to where he plays. I saw just a handful of pitches all day over 90, so one does have to wonder about how a player will deal when they face better velocity.

I did see him swing at some bad pitches low in the zone on the day, including one that hit in front of the plate, which is a concern. He was very aggressive and, while it worked early, he hit a deep shot to right field that got out so quickly that it ended up keeping him from taking an extra base. Other times, like during his third at bat, he seemed to swing at anything near the zone. The opposing pitcher seemed to realize how aggressive Sorma was, and took advantage of this in later at bats. His stats, as mentioned, show a player who is typically patient, so today might have been an aberration.

Every year we see more than a few D2 players get drafted. I think, based on his display this year and his background as a former name recruit Sorma will get a chance to be drafted this year, but more than likely in the 11th - 40th rounds. This is no guarantee, though, as I have also seen guys who put up ridiculous numbers in the lower levels go undrafted. Still, I would doubt I am the only person taking notice of what has been a rather ludicrous display of late. Teams will find talent and, in general, the state of Ohio is a bit weaker this year, which means the regional scouts will be scouring for underrated performers.

Other Notes 

  • MacKenzie Hampshire, a 6’2”1B/OF, hit a 410 foot bomb to centerfield
  • Before I arrived, Jon Crank, 3B, hit his 11th HR of the year; one might even say he “cranked” it. He currently leads Malone in home runs. Jon’s brother, Joe, also starts for Malone and their father is the coach.
  • There was a pitcher who sat 81-84, but touched 136 on one pitch. So, either it was a glitch, or I just found Sidd Finch or Steve Nebraska

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