FanGraphs released their latest Top 100 prospect list on Wednesday, ranking the most talented youngsters from farm systems all around the league entering the 2022 season. This year they extended it to 114 prospects, and you can click here to see the whole thing.
The Oakland A’s only show up once on the list, with catcher-for-now Tyler Soderstrom registering at No. 36 overall.
That’s been the trend all winter for the A’s farm system. This is the fifth major list to come out so far, and on each one Soderstrom is the club’s only rep and he’s rated easily within the top half. In fact, his impressive showing on FanGraphs is his lowest placement yet, and one other source had him cracking the Top Ten. Here are his various rankings from each pundit:
- ESPN (McDaniel): No. 10
- Baseball America: No. 21
- Baseball Prospectus: No. 23
- The Athletic (Law): No. 35
- FanGraphs: No. 36
That glowing national consensus is the latest reason to get excited about Soderstrom. The A’s drafted the local Turlock product in the 1st round in 2020, out of high school with the 26th overall pick, and he immediately got to work turning heads. He was one of the only teenagers invited to the team’s alternate site camp during the pandemic summer, and then last spring he went 4-for-10 with a few doubles during his first Cactus League experience.
The lefty hitter spent the 2021 summer at Low-A Stockton, an aggressive full-season assignment for a 19-year-old, and he responded with a standout performance. His batting line was the best on the team and one of the better marks in the entire Low-A level, despite being one of the younger players in his league.
- Soderstrom, 2021 A-: .306/.390/.568, 145 wRC+, 12 HR, 10.6% BB, 24.0% Ks
He hit for a high average and flexed his power, while making a promising amount of contact and drawing some walks to get on base. The defensive side of the ball is still a question mark for the aspiring catcher, as we’ll get to in a moment with his scouting reports, but the fact that we’re even talking about him as a possibility behind the plate at all is a lofty starting point.
Unfortunately, Soderstrom’s season ended early due to a back/oblique injury, which limited him to 57 games and 254 plate appearances. But that was enough to glimpse some flashes of brilliance, and he’s back to full health this spring, reports Melissa Lockard of The Athletic. He’ll play at age 20 this year.
While Soderstrom is the only Oakland prospect getting national attention right now, that might not be the case for long. When the lockout ends and transactions resume, the A’s are expected to trade away a few star players, of the caliber that you’d expect return packages to include some Top 100 names. There’s a likely chance the farm system will get a boost even before any games are played and any of their current prospects have the opportunity to raise their stock.
For a deeper look at Soderstrom, let’s check out some scouting reports from the Top 100 lists linked above. First up is Baseball America, with a quick summary of the main points:
Soderstrom is advanced beyond his years as a hitter with a polished, lefthanded swing, a sharp eye for the strike zone and plus power to all fields. Whether he can stick at catcher remains to be seen, but his bat will play at any position.
Baseball Prospectus adds more details, including what he still needs to work on at the plate, and what specifically is holding him back on defense:
... He displays an advanced approach at the plate, consistently selecting good pitches to hit and barreling them up, and the increased physicality leads to plus power. He is still getting accustomed to advanced secondaries and there will be some swing and miss that comes with the power, but he has shown the ability to make adjustments and projects as a 30 home run bat.
On the defensive side of things, Soderstrom is a work in progress. His arm plays behind the dish, but his hands are below-average, he has had trouble receiving premium stuff and his ability to block balls in the dirt will come and go. The introduction of an automated strike zone would give him a chance to stick, but given his offensive potential it’s more likely he moves out to first base or a corner outfield spot.
At ESPN, evaluator Kiley McDaniel uses Wil Myers as a comp in terms of general profile, high scouting grades, possible fast-track route, and a future that might include moving away from catcher to another position:
The tools/type/”reminds me of” already paint a picture here: advanced hitter whose bat is so good that he might keep moving up this list. But the bat will be big league ready before the glove at this rate, so don’t be surprised to see him move to a corner spot if the bat keeps moving as expected. (Even before the draft, some teams wondered about moving him to third base after short looks at him there.) This happened with Wil Myers and also Bryce Harper, though Soderstrom is more at the Myers level of potential 60 hit/power rather than a potential all-timer like Harper.
In a debut season shortened by injury, Soderstrom hit and hit for power, with exit velos that put him in the conversation with the best power prospects in his age group, as his surface stats and eyeball scouting also suggest. He went down with that injury in late July, with an oblique issue tied to a foul ball. Oakland opted to play it safe and shut him down, but it hasn’t kept him from improving his arm and defense a grade since draft time. He is another player who would benefit from an automated strike-calling future, with his arm no longer in doubt and framing potentially becoming a non-issue. This ranking is aggressive — there aren’t the multiple summers of national track record that southeastern products Greene and Abrams had — but all of the markers are here suggesting Soderstrom is that kind of hitter, with the elite makeup to match.
At The Athletic, Keith Law adds some extra notes about his swing mechanics, and also mentions third base as a possible future on defense. Law mentions some catcher-to-3B comps, but A’s fans might instead be reminded of Josh Donaldson:
... He would have ranked second in the league in slugging and fifth in OBP if he’d played in enough games, even though he was among the 10 youngest hitters in the California League’s remnants. Everyone seems to agree that Soderstrom is going to hit. He has a powerful swing and a very balanced approach, with just a small toe-tap and step that still generates a ton of force, although he can spin off his front foot on occasion, leaving him too open and vulnerable to stuff spinning away from him.
His defense behind the plate is well behind his bat, enough so that it’s probably a better move for the A’s to just move him to third base now and let him hit his way to the majors, as the Royals and Nationals did with Wil Myers and Bryce Harper as prospects. Soderstrom’s season ended on July 23th after he took a pitch to the collarbone and then developed a back problem while rehabbing, which also robbed him of some reps behind the plate and also doesn’t bode well for his ability to stay at the position anyway. His bat is going to be major-league ready by the end of 2023, but his glove won’t, and since his potential for a .300/.360/.500 line will profile just fine at third base, the A’s should make this decision sooner rather than later.
Finally, the FanGraphs crew has many of the same things to say, including the comps to Myers and Bryce Harper, the acknowledgement of his injury (“we’ve heard lower back, lat, or oblique”), and the resignation that moving him away from catcher probably makes the most sense:
... He looked comfortable during his big league spring at-bats and was utterly dominant on the backfields, running deep counts and crushing hard fly balls and line drives to all fields. Even when forced to offer at pitcher’s pitches, he’s strong enough to muscle ugly contact through the right side of the defense. ...
Juxtaposing his advanced offense is Soderstrom’s defense. ... He’s still pretty rough back there, and while we’re open to the possibility of him eventually becoming viable, working to develop Soderstrom’s glove probably means slowing the development of his bat and exposing him to the brutal grind of catching, which often dilutes offensive production. During [Eric Longenhagen’s] in-person looks, Soderstrom took a foul ball off the shoulder, collapsed into a heap, and was removed from one game, then took a weird hop off the throat and was removed from another. Stuff like that happens to catchers every night — it’s an occupational hazard that often causes them to play through pain and not hit well for long stretches.
In addition to the notes about injury risk and slower development pace for catchers, FanGraphs also points out that the A’s are more likely to be set behind the plate for now (with Gold Glove backstop Sean Murphy) than at first base (where Matt Olson might be traded away this winter).
Even without knowing which direction Soderstrom’s defensive path will take, those reports about his bat make it easy to dream on his future. Whether he sticks as the rare catcher who can mash, or becomes a classic thumper at first base, or follows Myers and Harper to the corner outfield, or Donaldson to third base, it sure looks like he’s going to hit well wherever he ends up.