Prospects Soderstrom, Gelof enter '23 on high note

March 22nd, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The A’s anticipate that Tyler Soderstrom and Zack Gelof -- both of whom project to develop into franchise-type players -- will make an impact in the big leagues at some point in 2023.

Getting an up-close look at the duo in Spring Training over the past few weeks, that belief has only gotten stronger.

“The detail that goes into being a big leaguer,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “I think they understand that now in the time they got to spend with us."

Soderstrom, Oakland’s No. 1 prospect and the No. 39 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, was one of a few young catchers in the organization who benefitted from Manny Piña’s wrist injury by receiving increased time behind the plate this spring.

From a hitting perspective, Soderstrom’s elite bat is considered Major League-ready, and he did nothing to dispel that notion this spring, hitting .258 with a .808 OPS and four extra-base hits in 16 Cactus League games. The final step in his development is figuring out what position he’ll play at the highest level. Though he received the majority of his playing time at first base in 2022, the 21-year-old played catcher in all but one of his Cactus League appearances.

“You saw Tyler’s growth,” Kotsay said. “One of the last games he caught, every aspect of the game that we watched from the beginning of Spring Training up until the last game he played improved. He got better. I think that’s what he’s going to take with him into his season this year.”

Gelof, Oakland’s No. 3 prospect, finished 7-for-22 (.318) with two doubles in 10 Cactus League games. Though he was absent from camp for nearly two weeks while playing for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic, the A’s were encouraged by what they saw from the 23-year-old infielder. Gelof is expected to join Soderstrom at Triple-A Las Vegas to begin the season.

“In terms of Zack, it was great for him to represent his country,” Kotsay said. “It did take away from a view that we would have liked and enjoyed to have with him. But I think we saw enough to know that for Zack, what’s left for him to do in the Minor Leagues is to go dominate a level. He’s aware of that, and he’s excited for the opportunity.”

Oller continues roster push
had built a strong case for a spot on Oakland’s pitching staff, with a 1.42 ERA through his first four spring outings. In Tuesday’s 6-5 A’s win over the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium, however, the right-hander ran into some adversity.

Hoping to go three or four innings, a high pitch count led to Oller exiting after the second, allowing four runs on six hits and three walks with one strikeout. Prior to Tuesday, Oller had allowed just two runs in his first 12 2/3 innings pitched.

“A little less command today,” Kotsay said. “He didn’t really get to establish his fastball and pitched behind. I think that’s what we saw in terms of lack of success.”

Given Oller’s rough numbers as a rookie in 2022 -- he posted a 6.30 ERA across 19 games (14 starts) with 39 walks in 74 1/3 innings -- he knew he would need to perform well this spring for a shot to break camp with the A’s. After five outings, Oller said he feels like he’s done “just about everything I possibly can” to position himself for such an opportunity.

“Up to this point, I definitely showed that I changed a lot and fixed a lot,” Oller said. “I’m back to what I know I can be and what they expect me to be. I feel good going into the season with where I’m at.”

The A’s are still deciding how they might structure their starting rotation, with newcomer accustomed to pitching in a six-man rotation in Japan. Regardless of whether they use five or six starters, it’s likely that one of the candidates who does not make the rotation will open the season in the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever. It’s a role Oller has performed in the past with Oakland, and one he’s willing to take on again if asked. Last year, he had a 3.24 ERA in five big league relief appearances.

“I knew going into this year that it would be a possibility,” Oller said. “Especially having done a little bit of both. … Obviously, everybody wants to be a starter. I just want to be on the team and do what I can to help the team win. Don’t really care what the role is, I just want to get the ball.”