A's hoping arrival of top prospects provides 2nd-half spark

July 15th, 2023

OAKLAND -- A week that has been rather busy for both and just got even more eventful.

Soderstrom, Oakland's top prospect (No. 34 overall) per MLB Pipeline, played in last Saturday's Futures Game, where he went 1-for-2 with a walk and said he felt ready to contribute for the big league club. Gelof, the A's third-ranked prospect, went back home to Delaware, where he and his family celebrated as his brother, Jake, was taken by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2023 MLB Draft.

"I was celebrating, and I was wearing a Dodgers hat around the house, saying I wasn't getting too used to it," Gelof said. "And then [my brother was] like, 'Good, because you're going to be wearing an A's one on Friday."

Soderstrom, batting fifth as the designated hitter, and Gelof, batting sixth and playing second base, made their MLB debuts in Friday's 5-4 loss to the Twins. Their calls to The Show came among a flurry of moves that also saw No. 5 prospect Freddy Tarnok, acquired in the trade that sent Sean Murphy to the Braves, get recalled to bolster the A's bullpen.

Though the A's extended their losing streak to five games, Soderstrom and Gelof impressed with a solid first night in the big leagues.

Soderstrom flied out and struck out before reaching base for the first time in the Majors, drawing a two-out walk against right-hander Emilio Pagán in the fifth inning. The 21-year-old is still seeking his first hit, but his plate appearances were promising given his 6.6 percent walk rate this year with Triple-A Las Vegas.

"You're not going to get too many pitches in the zone to hit, so you've got to kind of be patient, and kind of sit them out and get your pitch to hit," Soderstrom said. "It's going to be a battle up there every day, and I've got to go to work, for sure."

Gelof, too, flied out in his first at-bat, but he got a couple of milestones out of the way in his next trip to the plate. With one out in the third inning, Gelof crushed a towering RBI double off veteran righty Kenta Maeda that hit off the top of the right-field wall.

The 23-year-old infielder plans to give the ball to his parents to thank them for their support in getting to this point in his career -- once he tracks it down.

"I have no idea where it is. I don't even know where it went," Gelof said. "They could be tricking me, for all I know. I was just looking up, seeing the fans, kind of trying to take it all in."

Gelof finished 1-for-4 and was solid in the field, starting a 4-6-3 double play to end the eighth inning. His heads-up play preserved a 3-3 tie before Shintaro Fujinami served up a go-ahead two-run homer to Joey Gallo in the top of the ninth.

For Oakland, which came out of the All-Star break with a 25-67 record, the second half presents an opportunity to look ahead to a new era of A's baseball.

"The only reason I hesitate to sort of talk about how big a day it is is it's not necessarily fair to those guys to put that burden on them," A's general manager David Forst said. "It's really exciting. I mean, the minute you draft a Soderstrom or a Gelof, you think about the moment they're going to get here to Oakland. And for them, it's come quicker than a lot of guys."

Soderstrom, who was the A's first-round pick out of Turlock (Calif.) High School in the five-round 2020 Draft, had plenty of family and friends in attendance on Friday. Gelof, Oakland's second-rounder from Virginia in '21, mainly had his immediate family in the crowd for his debut, though he expects a larger turnout when the A's visit the Nationals from Aug. 11-13.

It's fitting that the duo got the call at the same time, as Soderstrom and Gelof are viewed as players with the potential to become franchise cornerstones.

"It's awesome," Soderstrom said. "Even that we got to get called up together, that's something special. We'll get to share this day for, hopefully, many more days to come."

The duo should add some pop to an Oakland lineup that ranks last or near the bottom in most offensive categories, including slugging a paltry .353 in the first half.

Should Soderstrom and Gelof's power translate to the Majors, it could spark the A's offense. Soderstrom led Triple-A Las Vegas with 20 homers, and Gelof's .930 OPS ranked second among qualified Aviators batters.

"I think both players come as advertised," manager Mark Kotsay said after Friday's loss. "The ball that Gelof hit there off the top of the wall shows his power. Tyler took some good at-bats. He drew a walk, which shows good signs, some patience in that approach."

With the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline nearing, it appears as if Oakland is preparing to give its young talent more extensive big league opportunities. The addition of Soderstrom and Gelof brings the A's one step closer to uniting a group of players that they see as their core moving forward.

"The more players you have like that in the big leagues together, the more you can sort of envision the roster going forward," Forst said. "It helps to get a picture moving forward of what the players might look like. I know, for Mark and the staff, it's important to get these guys together, to learn to play together and build that culture as well."