The Oakland A’s next opponent will be the UCLA Bruins after having used the 26 pick in the Major League Baseball draft to take Turlock High catcher Tyler Soderstrom.
A 6-foot-2, 190-pound catcher with a strong arm, Soderstrom is, or was, headed to UCLA to play ball. The left-handed hitter is enough of an athlete to play at third base, first base or either of the corner outfield spots.
There was some talk going into the draft that if a big-league club was sure they could lure Soderstrom away from UCLA, he might have been picked somewhere in the top 10. As it was, he was ranked the No. 19 draft prospect by Baseball America and No. 19 by mlb.com.
A’s director of scouting Eric Kubota acknowledged the UCLA link for Soderstrom, but he seemed to take it as part of doing business in a draft.
“I’m comfortable we’re going to be able to make something happen,” Kubota said.
Soderstrom, who talked with the media later in the evening from his Turlock home, did not commit one way or another, but it seemed clear he was open to making the jump to professional baseball and bypassing UCLA.
"I have not yet (come to terms with the A's)," he said. "We're kind of in that process right now."
Soderstrom, 18, had hit well at some of baseball’s showcase venues, including the Area Code Games, showing a polished left-handed swing with power.
He was able to play in just five games this year before his high school season was brought to an end by the COVID-19 coronavirus, but as a junior the left-hander hit .450 with four homers and a 1.340 OPS as a junior.
"This (the pandemic-induced shutout), has been tough to deal with," he said. "I missed not getting to play with my boys one last time. But I'm super lucky to be in the situation I am now."
Scouts like his arm as a catcher, but the rest of his game is less polished. The A’s probably will start with him behind the plate, but as one NL West scout said, “this kid is enough of an athlete that he’d be an above-average player in right or left and adequate at least at third base.”
Kubota said the A’s have no plans on moving him should they get his name on a contract.
“I think every scout for the Oakland A’s sees him as a catcher,” Kubota said. “First off, he has a strong desire to catcher. And that’s more than half the battle when you are talking about developing as a catcher in the minor leagues.”
The A’s got good reports on Soderstrom from a non-scout, too. Minor league pitcher Daulton Jefferies has thrown to Soderstrom, Kubota said, and “Dalton raves about him as a catcher.”
He is the son of Steve Soderstrom, who was also taken in the first round, going to the Giants in 1993. He pitched professionally for seven seasons, including three starts for the Giants in 1996.
The A’s have done the father/son thing before, taking Nick Swisher with their first pick in 2002 after his father, Steve was a first-round pick in 1973 with the White Sox. And in 1994 the A’s first-round pick was Ben Grieve, whose father, Tom, was the first-round pick of the Senators in 1966.
Kubota said the club had talked with Steve Soderstrom, and said “I think he’s kind of shared his experience with Tyler.”
This marks just the second time in the last seven years the A’s have selected a high school player with their first pick in the draft, with the other being outfielder Austin Beck in 2017. The last time the A’s took a catcher with their first pick was Landon Powell in 2004 and the only time Oakland chose a high school catcher in the first round was in 1974 when they selected Jerry Johnson.
The draft concludes tomorrow with rounds two through five beginning at 2:00 PM PT. The A’s will have picks 58, 98, 127 and 157.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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