It’s been a lost season for Turlock High’s Tyler Soderstrom similar to millions of others from the Class of 2020, but he hasn’t been able to fret too much about missing out on everything. He’s been getting ready to perhaps hear his name called in the first round of this year’s Major League Baseball draft. And he’s not the first member of his family to go through the experience. Go inside for his story and for what he’d like to say to all seniors everywhere.
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Since last summer, baseball scouts and those who project what might happen in this year’s Major League Baseball draft have been going nuts over Turlock High hitting/catching prospect Tyler Soderstrom.
The graduating Class of 2020 senior has been frequently mentioned as a first-round selection in mock scenarios over the past month for this year’s draft, which begins on June 10. It will be done live over video with teams and players apart from each other similar to the format in which the NFL held its draft in April. Soderstrom also was recently named as the top high school prospect in the state among seniors by the Prep Baseball Report (PBR).
Scouts have gone nuts over a Soderstrom from Turlock before. In 1993, Tyler’s dad, Steve, was a flame-throwing pitcher at Fresno State and ended up as the sixth pick in the first round of that draft (chosen by the San Francisco Giants).
Although it happened last season with Bobby Witt Jr. of Texas joining his father Bobby Witt Sr. as first-round selections, a father-son both going that high has only happened nine times since the MLB draft began in 1965 (according to MLB.com). Three of those duos are from California with the most well-known being No. 1 overall pick Jeff Burroughs of Long Beach Wilson in 1969 and his son Sean Burroughs (also from Long Beach Wilson) then going at No. 9 overall in 1998.
Brother Tate Soderstrom and mother Tami Soderstrom also are obviously closely connected to Tyler. Tate, who is three years older, currently plays at the University of Arizona and is working hard in his own right o become a higher-ranked baseball prospect.
Growing Up On A Farm
Nuts, and almonds in particular, have been a major part of Tyler’s life as long as he can remember.
In their Stanislaus County community, the Soderstroms have been more known for their almond orchards instead of baseball going back many years. Steve now runs the property and he has even carved out a baseball diamond in the midst of it so his sons could develop their games. There’s also a place to train indoors where Steve has taken on additional clients to work with for a side-business known as Backyard Sports Academy.
“I have lived in the same house my whole life,” Tyler said. “Growing up with my brother, we were always competing in everything we did. I played up on his teams until I was 12 so my family could all be together. I think this really helped me become so versatile. I was always trying to find a spot to play and would end up in the outfield, at second or third, on the mound or wherever there was a spot. Tate has taught me a lot about the game. I have learned a lot watching everything he has been through.”
Tyler’s mom, Tami, has an athletic background as well. She played basketball during her years at Turlock High and she has a brother, Andy Boone, who played baseball in high school and then later at Cosumnes River College.
With Tate moving up to the Turlock High varsity for his sophomore season of 2015, seventh-grader Tyler wasn’t far away. Former longtime Turlock High head coach Mark de la Motte, who retired after the 2018 season and actually coached Steve Soderstrom in 1993, remembers how enthusiastic the youngest Soderstrom was in those days.
“Tyler would come over and catch batting practice as a seventh-grader,” said de la Motte, who stayed in the game this spring as an assistant coach at Modesto Junior College. “It’s been a family operation for a long time.”
Tate Soderstrom didn’t get the kind of attention that his younger brother is now enjoying, but he batted .324, .420 and .361 in three seasons for the Bulldogs and they had winning seasons in all of them. Tate also had 84 career hits and 53 runs scored. At the University of Arizona last season, Tate batted .244 against tough Pac-12 pitching. The highlight was a 4-for-5 with five RBI outing against the Wildcats’ arch-rivals from Arizona State. He had a strong summer last year leading into this season by hitting .309 in 36 games in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League playing for the league champion Bethesda Big Train.
In Tate’s senior year at Turlock, Tyler was playing on the varsity level as a freshman. That might be normal at other smaller schools in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, but not as much at Turlock. Tyler batted .324 that season.
“When we brought him up as a freshman he was as good as the seniors, and he kept getting better,” de la Motte said. “His dad made a big jump between his junior and senior years with four inches of growth. Tyler just does all of the little things so well that most people take for granted in baseball. He doesn’t do a lot of talking. His dad was the same way.”
With new Turlock head coach Sean Gilbert coming in for Tyler’s junior season, having someone who is such a coach on the field probably was a major assistance. Soderstrom also continued to hit. He batted .450 last year after .342 as a sophomore and despite only getting to play five games as a senior he still finished with 91 career hits.
With additional returning players, such as senior Cole Carrigg and junior Dominic Rodriguez plus the addition of transfer USC-bound pitcher Andy Owen (Tyler’s cousin), the Bulldogs were looking to make a big splash in 2020. Gilbert set up a challenging schedule, which began at the Central California Showcase where Turlock played two state-ranked CIF Central Section teams immediately. The Bulldogs lost to Buchanan of Clovis, but defeated Clovis North of Fresno. Their early season also had them beating another of the top preseason ranked teams from the Sac-Joaquin Section, Tokay of Lodi, but with a loss to San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno. Even at 3-2, Turlock was No. 18 in the final, expanded Cal-Hi Sports State Top 40 rankings.
“The competitive atmosphere of all five of our games is what I will remember most,” Tyler said of his shortened senior season. “Coach Gilbert put together a great schedule. Our team really had to come together and rely on each other. It was tough not getting to finish.”
Soderstrom also had a message for other senior athletes in California from the Class of 2020, who all missed out on experiencing so many memories that were previously taken for granted before the era of Covid-19 struck in March.
“We just have to remember that we can only control what we can control,” he said. “None of this defines who we are and we can push through this. We need to keep working hard and know this won’t last forever.”
The Next Episode for The Sodes
In the 1993 MLB Draft, Steve Soderstrom wasn’t just the first college player from a California high school to be chosen but it was a year in which there was only one California high school player selected in the first round at all — former longtime MLB first baseman Derrek Lee from El Camino of Sacramento, who was chosen at No. 14 overall by the San Diego Padres.
The elder Soderstrom, who pitched professionally for seven years and appeared in three MLB games for the Giants, also was drafted coming out of high school, but didn’t sign and instead headed for Fresno State.
Tyler signed his letter of intent last November with UCLA. If he and his family like what happens on draft day, history shows that most in that situation tend to sign with their pro team and give up college eligibility. That’s not a certainty, however, and every case is different. Just six years ago, California No. 1 overall draft pick Brady Aiken from Cathedral Catholic of San Diego didn’t sign with the Houston Astros, went to IMG Academy in Florida for one year and then got drafted again the following season (although in a lower position in the first round) by the Cleveland Indians.
This year’s draft also will be much different due to it being cut down to just five rounds (also primarily due to the Coronavirus pandemic).
“It’s definitely a different draft and unfortunately not many guys are going to be drafted in just five rounds,” Steve Soderstrom said. “I’m excited for Tyler and the opportunities that he has earned. Tyler will hopefully have two great options to choose from after it’s all over. Tami and I just look forward to being there to support whatever path he chooses.”
It was quite a busy path for Tyler last summer as he literally traveled around the globe to make a name for himself. Being Turlock Journal Player of the Year or collecting any high school honors or stats just only go so far. Going up against other elite competition in the summer has been normal for college recruiting in many sports and it’s no different in baseball. Soderstom first ventured to IMG Academy in Florida for three weeks for the PDP League (partly put on by USA Baseball). Then came the high school All-American showcase events followed by a trip to South Korea to play for the USA U-18 national team.
All of those performances is what has led to Tyler’s status for the upcoming draft.
“It’s awesome to think about playing in the major leagues someday,” he said. “It’s something that motivates me to work hard every day.”
With no organized practices going on at school, Soderstrom has been getting ready for the draft or playing at UCLA in the fall by working out on the farm at the Backyard Sports Academy.
“I have been staying consistent with my routine and getting my work in with my dad and brother every day,” Tyler said. “I am very blessed to have access to cages, a workout room and a baseball field to get all my work in.”
Some of the pre-draft writeups about Tyler on the national baseball websites mention the possibility — even probability — that he won’t be a catcher in the future, perhaps moving to the outfield or third base. But one of his favorite players is Giants’ catcher Buster Posey along with Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and Christian Yelich of the Brewers. Posey being a catcher who hits (like Tyler) and with Bellinger/Yelich being left-handed hitters with sweet batting strokes (like Tyler) are perhaps why Soderstrom likes those three so much.
de la Motte also believes that Tyler can be an outstanding catcher in the future.
“He caught all of those innings for the USA team and didn’t miss a thing,” de la Motte said. “He is really versatile, though, so I can see why people might think like that.”
Tyler just says: “I love catching. As long as my bat is in the lineup, I love playing anywhere on the field.”
No one knows for sure if the father-son first-round dream is going to come true, but if it does the boys will all have to take a big gulp of some almond milk as if they’d all just won the Indianapolis 500.
“My dad is an awesome resource to have,” Tyler said. “He is always there for me to answer any questions I have. More than anything, he just keeps me focused on getting better every day. He talks a lot about how important it is to be consistent with my routine and keep pushing through when things get tough.”
And even if everything goes great on June 10, things will get tough because dealing with tough situations is what baseball is all about.