TURLOCK — They gather at the Turlock High ballpark and are armed with speed guns, stop-watches, notebooks and experienced eyes gauging talent.
The Braves, Red Sox and Royals sent scouts over the past week alone. Overall, 29 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams – all except the Houston Astros – have inspected the 2020 Turlock Bulldogs, a team already bracing for through-the-roof expectations.
Why, you ask? Consider the five – that’s 5, over half the batting order – Bulldogs who’ve already committed to Division I universities:
— Tyler Soderstrom, a senior catcher-infielder, to UCLA,
— Andrew Owen, a senior righthanded pitcher, to USC,
— Cole Carrigg, a senior switch-hitting catcher-infielder, to San Diego State,
— Clay Longinotti, a 6-foot-5 lefthanded pitcher, to San Diego State,
— Dom Rodriguez, a junior first baseman-third baseman, to Cal.
“It’s rare,” said ex-San Francisco Giants pitcher Steve Soderstrom, Tyler’s father. “Five guys? Doesn’t happen very often.”
The parade of scouts began their homework on the Turlock stars last summer, a process that will continue until the MLB Free Agent Draft in June. That’s when the Bulldogs, after what they hope will be a successful season, have decisions to make.
All their options appear to be good.
Tyler Soderstrom is expected to be drafted, though when is a guess. It’s not a coincidence that Soderstrom, a preseason Prep All-America selection by Baseball America, is a big part of a program that has claimed league titles the last four seasons.
“It’s been my life-long dream to play in the major leagues,” he said. “I do need to stay focused on the season and see how things turn out.”
Owen, Soderstrom’s cousin, spent his junior season at Jesuit High in Carmichael before he returned to his hometown as a senior. The Owen-Soderstrom battery should be lethal. Owen’s low-90s fastball has been duly noticed.
He led Jesuit in strikeouts and innings pitched last spring as the Marauders reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I final. Along the way, Owen pitched the first four innings of Jesuit’s 4-2 second-round win over…wait for it…Turlock to end the Bulldogs’ season.
“It (the attention) is a little overwhelming but I try to be the best version of myself. I’m kind of used to it at this point,” Owen said.
Soderstrom and Owen have played baseball together since they were about 6. Their affection for the game is permanent. It’s also good that Steve Soderstrom knows many of the visiting scouts by their first name.
Steve, a former Fresno State Bulldog, was drafted by San Francisco as the No. 6 overall selection in 1993. He eventually worked his way through the minors and pitched briefly for the Giants late in 1996.
Which means he can pass along a lot of wisdom to the teen-aged prospects.
“The scouts have seen ‘em play. They know what they can do. It’s now more about what kind of person they are,” Steve Soderstrom said. “These kids really haven’t failed. Baseball is all about failure. All of a sudden, you get into pro ball when everyone is as good as you, and you’re 0-for-20. How are you going to react?”
Soderstrom and Mike Carrigg, Cole’s father, have thrown batting practice during many of these informal auditions. Mike, formerly of San Jose State, reached the minors during his career.
“I’ve told Cole to go out and have as much fun as you can,” Mike Carrigg said. “Don’t worry about who’s watching.”
Also being watched are Longinotti, no doubt a boost to Turlock’s already deep pitching staff, and the versatile Rodriguez.
That the first official day of practice is Feb. 10 almost misses the point. Fact is, Turlock has been monitored by baseball for months. Coach Sean Gilbert will escort the area’s most conspicuous collection of ability over the next four months. But for the Bulldogs' special quintet, the season will serve only as a springboard.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind the last few months,” Mike Carrigg summarized. “I’ll support Cole no matter what he does.”