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Tyler Soderstrom has path to make Oakland A’s opening day roster

A’s manager Mark Kotsay announced Friday morning that projected opening day starter Paul Blackburn will begin the season on the injured list as he deals with a fingernail avulsion on the middle finger of his throwing hand. 

“Paul will start the season on the IL,” Kotsay said, via A’s media relations. “That’s all I got on Paul right now. He still continues to play catch without having to be on the mound and without having to put pressure on that finger, to an extent, with the nail.”

Without Blackburn, the A’s could turn to players like James Kaprielian, Shintaro Fujinami or Drew Rucinski to start on opening day, though that decision may be predicated on timing.

“Paul was a guy that we were anticipating being in our rotation,” Kotsay said. “Next man up.”

That probably wasn’t the biggest nugget of news Kotsay dropped on Friday. Backup catcher Manny Piña is also going to start the season in the IL with a left wrist issue, keeping the door open for top prospect Tyler Soderstrom to make the opening day roster. As of now, Soderstrom is still in big-league camp.

“What I know is there’s inflammation in his wrist and they’ve put him in a brace,” Kotsay said of Piña. “He won’t be available for opening day. He’ll start on the IL.”

Kotsay knows it’d be a big ask for the 21-year-old to start the year in Oakland, as he spent the bulk of his season in High-A and Double-A last season, but Soderstrom did get a late-year cameo in Las Vegas. Soderstrom is currently ranked as the A’s top prospect by MLB.com and No. 39 overall.

At this point, Kotsay said Soderstrom’s development is more important, but he might just be needed for a short spurt to begin the season while Piña heals up.

“It definitely would be a jump,” Kotsay said. “He did finish up the year in Triple-A last year. I think it would be accelerated for sure. Most likely, in our situation, how we view Tyler, I think the development probably outweighs accelerating him to the Major League level. But to say that that’s been ruled out, it hasn’t. It’s part of the discussion that we’ll have to entertain now that Manny is definitely on the IL.”

The 35-year-old Piña was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Sean Murphy trade and is due to make $4.5 million this season. He appeared in just five games before getting season-ending wrist surgery last May. Back in 2021, he hit a career-high 13 homers in 75 games but slashed just .189/.293/.439 that season.

You could make a strong argument that Soderstrom’s bat is big-league ready, but probably still needs some more reps behind the plate before handling an MLB staff full-time. Soderstrom has also been splitting time at first base throughout the past couple seasons, but the A’s still love him behind the plate, as director of player development Ed Sprague told me recently.

The other candidates on the roster to backup Shea Langeliers include Kyle McCann and Yohel Pozo. While Pozo has been optioned to Minor League camp, he could be called back up to the 26-man roster for opening day. Pozo appeared in 21 games with the Texas Rangers in 2021, while McCann spent most of last year in Double-A before getting seven games in with the Triple-A Aviators.

“You look at the Major League experience and value that for sure,” Kotsay said. “It would be a jump for McCann as well. We’ve been impressed with McCann’s done defensively, the improvements he’s made.”

Even if Soderstrom doesn’t make the cut for opening day, the fact he’s still in camp and still in the conversation is exciting for The New Oakland wave of prospects in the organization.