With a draft that could unfold in a numerous amount of ways, the D-backs could still very well end up following the same strategy as they did the past two years. That’s open up the draft with a athletic, high make-up, and a projected plus hit tool at an up the middle position. They did it the previous two years with the selections of Matt McLain (unsigned) and Corbin Carroll. While I don’t think they’ll draft another left/left center fielder type like Robert Hassell or Pete Crow-Armstrong unless the top pitchers are completely off the board, one potential prep bat could be an option for them at 18.
Name: Tyler Soderstrom
Size: 6’2” 190
I put a question mark by catcher because I’m very bearish on his ability to stay back there. However he does have enough athleticism and foot speed to handle a position change to a corner infield/outfield position. Soderstrom does possess the physical traits necessary to stick behind the plate, but didn’t get enough reps because he was blocked by a superior defender. He has some experience at 3B and LF in high school as a means to keep his bat in the lineup.
Rankings: Baseball America - 18th, MLB Pipeline - 19th
Expected Draft Range: Top 20
Soderstrom is another difficult prospect to peg because he could go as early as 13 to San Francisco. I don’t see him lasting past 20 just on the merits of his hitting prowess.
Projected Tools: Hit 55, Power 55, Speed 50, Defense 45
As I mentioned before, Soderstrom’s long term projection is difficult because there are plenty of routes to go. His bat has enough potential that he could end up moving to a different position so he gets 600 plate appearances a year instead of 450. However at the same time it is also too early to give up on his potential as a catcher given the physical tools. Soderstrom has solid mobility and plenty of arm necessary to stick there, but having less reps there than your typical draft eligible catcher, he’ll need an extra year to learn the nuances of the position.
Another potential situation to monitor will be if MLB adapts an automated strike zone. If framing becomes less important, then the team that drafts him will have an added incentive to keep him as a bat-first catcher instead of move him to another position. It’ll be interesting to see how long a rope he has at the catcher position, although I consider framing to be less important than pitch calling and blocking. Those are the two areas he needs the most improvement in and that’s something that will have to come with more reps and experience.
Why the D-backs might draft him?
Even with the questionable long term defensive position, the bat plays at a corner infield or corner outfield position. Soderstrom possesses enough athleticism to be capable of being a passable defender at any position he ends up. If it’s not catcher then it’ll be 3B, 1B, then LF as the potential list of options. If the D-backs believe he can stick behind the plate, then I think they’d be more interested in landing him although that could also be the reason he’s not available in the first place. Overall there’s enough offensive upside at two areas of the farm system that don’t have a lot of depth to take him.
Why the D-backs might not draft him?
The two biggest reasons are lack of availability and a player higher up on their board is available at the 18th pick. Soderstrom will go anywhere from 13-19 in the draft, but the team is reportedly looking at the top prep arms (Nick Bitsko, Jared Kelley, and Mick Abel). The team may also afford the risk of skipping on Soderstrom and take a chance on Drew Romo, who projects to stick at catcher despite a much smaller floor as a hitter, with their Comp A pick.
Soderstrom is going to end up going Top 20, so I don’t think signing him will be too much of an issue. Depending on the situation, the D-backs may have to go above the $3.4MM slot value for the 18th pick to get the job done, but I don’t think it affects their overall strategy that much if they do. If they take Soderstrom at 18, they’re going to hedge the risk with a safer profile (college bat or arm) at the 33rd overall pick.
ETA: August 2024
Soderstrom will likely reach the majors right around the time Carson Kelly is due for free agency, so if he ends up developing at catcher there is a path for him to be a starter there. If he ends up playing another position, then you could probably take a year off from his path to the majors since the carrying tool will be the bat. There are enough good physical traits to keep Soderstrom behind the plate for now.