Patience paying off for Soderstrom, who is starting to live up to billing

June 14th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- Calling up last summer as a 21-year-old with only one full season of professional baseball under his belt was a risk. Still, the allure of his billing as one of the top prospects in MLB, combined with a strong start at Triple-A, was too good for the A’s to pass up.

Upon receiving his first promotion to the Majors, Soderstrom appeared to be overmatched. He hit just .160 with a .472 OPS in 45 games with Oakland in 2023 and struck out 43 times over 138 plate appearances.

The A’s have acknowledged that Soderstrom was not quite ready for the consistent high quality of big league pitching encountered at that time. Since then, they’ve worked on fine-tuning his approach to give him the best shot for success at the highest level.

Patiently allowed by the A’s to work through some struggles, Soderstrom is starting to flash the elite hitting traits that made him Oakland’s No. 1 overall prospect for three straight seasons (2021-23). The first baseman extended his career-best hit streak to five games in Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Twins at Target Field by slugging a go-ahead two-run homer off Joe Ryan in the second inning.

“Great at-bat by Tyler,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “He got us on the board and gave us a lead. The at-bats have been better. … He’s showing great signs of maturity and growth. He’s becoming the hitter that we know he can be.”

Beginning this season at Triple-A Las Vegas to continue his development, Soderstrom returned to the big leagues on May 8 and made an immediate impact, homering in his first game and hitting .318 (7-for-22) through his first seven games. Following that, however, was a 12-game stretch in which he collected just one hit in 24 at-bats.

The prolonged slump could have been enough for the A’s to send Soderstrom back to the Minors for further refining. Instead, they continued giving him regular playing time at first base while getting him extra work with the A’s hitting staff.

That confidence has paid off in the form of Soderstrom’s best sustained stretch as a hitter. He’s now homered in three of his past four games and hit safely in seven of his past eight games, batting .320 (8-for-25) over that stretch.

“I think it just goes into the work,” Soderstrom said of his recent success. “You get the reps up here with everyday at-bats and keep working hard. The biggest thing is just taking it day by day, working hard and trusting yourself.”

The biggest difference between this season and last for Soderstrom comes in his swing decisions. Though the strikeouts (27) remain a bit high, his 12 walks have already surpassed last year’s total (11). This is the product of his ability to lay off pitches he was prone to chasing in the past.

This was evident in his second-inning at-bat. After taking a called first strike, Soderstrom took a splitter that dove down in the zone for a ball. Last year, he likely would have swung at it and dug himself an 0-2 count. This time around, he waited for Ryan to come back in the zone. One pitch later, Soderstrom launched a splitter left middle-up for a majestic Statcast-projected 431-foot blast to straightaway center that left his bat at a scorching exit velocity of 112.1 mph, registering as the hardest-hit batted ball of his career and second-longest homer.

“Tyler’s been able to make an adjustment on some pitches he was chasing,” Kotsay said. “He’s done a nice job of shrinking the zone, getting pitches he can handle and putting good swings on them. … Those types of at-bats show the progress he’s making that, ultimately, will lead to a lot of success for him.”

For the A’s, Thursday marked their 12th loss in their past 15 games. After early signs of hope by entering May 5 as a .500 team (17-17), they’re now a season-worst 19 games under .500 (26-45) as the reality of what is still a rebuilding phase has set in. Going forward, this season is about the continued development of players who could help the A’s get back to contending baseball in the future like Soderstrom, who is finally showing signs of just how good a hitter he can be.

“I’m just trying to live day by day,” Soderstrom said. “Just put my head down, enjoy being up here and enjoy the process.”