Confidence the key to Soderstrom's success

December 19th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos' A's Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

From amateur baseball to the pros,  has always been considered a phenom. The best player on whatever team he was on. So when he encountered struggles in his first taste of big league action this past season, the lack of immediate success wore on him.

“The biggest thing I’ve got to work on is keep my confidence,” Soderstrom said on Sept. 10. “Learning to be confident all the time, no matter if it’s going bad or good. I know I’m a great player and I know I’m going to play in this league for a long time. That’s my mindset, and I’m just going to keep going with it.”

Soderstrom was called up to the Majors along with Zack Gelof on July 14. Rated the club’s Nos. 1 and 3 prospects by MLB Pipeline at the time and viewed as future potential franchise cornerstones of the A’s, the duo’s arrival on the same day felt like the beginning of a new era for Oakland.

Both were thrust into everyday roles with the A’s. But while Gelof took off and soared as one of MLB’s top rookies over the second half and finished with an .841 OPS over 69 games, Soderstrom’s lowly .472 OPS in 45 games was magnified. At one point, Soderstrom’s offensive woes led to a demotion back to Triple-A on Aug. 21, before getting called back up in September. In all, Soderstrom hit .160 with three home runs, seven RBIs and 43 strikeouts in 138 plate appearances.

While the numbers were underwhelming, the A’s remain steadfast in their belief that Soderstrom will emerge as a game-changing talent.

“It’s not fair at all to Tyler to be compared to Zack just because they came up on the same day,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “One guy was a college guy out of the Draft, another a high school guy. Also, not a lot of young players take Zack’s trajectory. To hit the ground running like he did and not have these ups and downs is sort of rare and speaks to what a special talent Zack has a chance to be. But Tyler’s trajectory is more common.”

Forst mentioned Matt Olson’s road to the big leagues as one he and manager Mark Kotsay brought up to the 22-year-old Soderstrom when discussing his season. Prior to reaching stardom with the A’s, Olson was moved back and forth between Triple-A and Oakland several times and hit well below his high expectations as a top prospect before a trade of Yonder Alonso in 2017 opened the door for regular playing time. Soon after, Olson emerged as one of the top first basemen in baseball.

“Matt went up and down six times that season and didn’t come back to stick until we finally traded Yonder in August and said, ‘OK, this is your job,’” Forst said. “He went on to have a pretty good career so far. Mark and I, specifically, have talked to Tyler about that. It’s not a straight line for everybody, and it’s totally fine if it’s not. There’s still a ton of talent there.”

With Shea Langeliers holding a strong grasp on the everyday catcher job and Ryan Noda coming off an impressive rookie season as the A’s starting first baseman, it remains to be seen what position Soderstrom -- who got time at both catcher and first base last season -- will fill over the long haul. But with elite hitting traits that made him such a touted prospect over the past few years (career .857 OPS over three Minor League seasons), Soderstrom should still get plenty of opportunity to translate that success into the Majors in 2024.

“I think there’s a chance he’s on the Opening Day roster,” Forst said. “I also don’t think Minor League time is necessarily bad for any of these guys. … Whether he makes the Opening Day roster or not, he’s going to be with us this year.”