Last Saturday, Tyler Soderstrom played in an AL West stadium (Seattle’s T-Mobile Park) as part of the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. On Friday, he was on his way to a ballpark in the same division -- this time in a place he’ll call home as very much a part of the Oakland Athletics’ present.
Soderstrom and Gelof will be the ninth and 10th players to make their Major League debuts with the A’s in 2023, but the former will be by far the highest profile of the bunch. Taken 26th overall in 2020, the 21-year-old first baseman/catcher will be just the second high-school pick from his Draft class to make The Show, behind only Cardinals rookie Jordan Walker.
Soderstrom hit .254/.303/.536 over 69 games for Triple-A Las Vegas before this post-All-Star-break promotion. His 20 homers were tied for sixth most at the Minors’ top level and tied for ninth most among all Minor Leaguers -- all while being only one of three 21-year-olds to reach the qualifying standard at Triple-A in ‘23. While Vegas is certainly considered a Pacific Coast League launching pad, the left-handed slugger had much better away splits (.314/.353/.607) than home (.193/.253/.464) over similar sample sizes.
It's that power that the California native should bring immediately back to his home state.
Soderstrom's 113.5 mph max exit velocity -- on an April 2 homer (seen above) that traveled 466 feet -- was tops among Las Vegas bats this season, and only Ryan Noda (113.9 mph) has hit a ball harder than among A’s Major Leaguers in 2023. His 91.4 average exit velo also led Aviators batters with more than five plate appearances, and his 46.2 percent hard-hit rate (i.e. percentage of balls hit at 95-plus mph) would trail only Brent Rooker’s 47.4 among Oakland hitters at the top level, were it to translate to The Show.
The context here, of course, is that the A’s have lacked many power bats during a rough first half for the team overall. Oakland hitters rank last in the Majors in average (.221), slugging (.353) and runs scored (329). Limit that to left-handed batters specifically, and the A’s also sit at the bottom in average (.216) and slugging (.345). The pitchers' haven that is the Coliseum certainly does those figures no favors, but the point remains that Soderstrom’s slugging ability -- aided by good strength and an innate ability to find the barrel on contact -- has a good chance to boost Oakland's offense on arrival.
The biggest concern about how his offense will translate might be in his aggression at the plate. Soderstrom walked only 6.6 percent of the time at Triple-A this season, the 11th-lowest BB rate among 167 qualifiers at that level. That could very well be a product of his relative youth, but Major League pitchers won’t shy away from attacking that aggression in the early days of Soderstrom’s career.
Soderstrom’s position also remains up in the air.
The A’s continued to flip him between catcher (35 starts) and first base (24 starts) at Triple-A. While he possesses above-average arm strength and can post the occasional 1.9-second pop time, the backstop only threw out five of 34 (14.7 percent) attempted basestealers, which is a bigger problem in today’s speedy game.
The presence of Shea Langeliers lessens Oakland’s need for Soderstrom to catch every day, but he should provide a better backup option than 36-year-old Manny Piña. Rule 5 pick Noda has gotten the lion’s share of starts at first base and has been an above-average hitter, thanks to a heavy diet of walks. He or All-Star Brent Rooker could see more time in the corner outfield spots if Oakland wants to continue rotating Soderstrom through catcher, first and DH.
No matter where the club uses its top prospect in the days and weeks ahead, it’s clear that the 25-67 A’s needed to get a good view of the future of their Major League roster in the second half. Soderstrom’s arrival will be the brightest look of the season.