A leg injury prematurely ended Jackson Merrill’s first summer in pro ball in 2021. A fractured wrist sent him to the shelf the following April, and a hamstring pull delayed his return to Low-A Lake Elsinore until late July.
Still, the 19-year-old shortstop has been nothing short of a revelation when he’s been on the field. The Padres drafted him 27th overall out of a Maryland high school in 2021.
“He’s the real deal,” Lake Elsinore manager Eric Junge said last summer. “He’s got a very bright future. Since he’s been back, he’s been nothing short of our best player, and most nights he’s the best player on the field. He brings energy. He brings the bat. He brings the glove. He puts in the work, which he’s been doing every single day this year.”
Junge was speaking as Merrill’s return from the injured list helped the Storm capture a California League title. He hit .325/.387/.482 with five home runs in 45 games during the season and then went 11-for-17 with four doubles and three steals in four postseason wins.
Merrill finished his first full season in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .261/.316/.352 as one of the circuit’s few teenagers.
Merrill began to showcase some of the budding power that moved him up the Padres’ draft board, but it was his “culture-changing” makeup, as one internal evaluator noted, that solidified his status as the organization’s top prospect.
Merrill showcased an advance feel to handle both fastballs and offspeed pitches and improved his mobility, foot speed and arm strength, asserting the Padres’ contention that he could remain at shortstop even as he fills out a 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame.
Not that the Padres will be in need of a shortstop anytime soon after signing free agent Xander Bogaerts for 11 years and $280 million.
The Padres will continue to play Merrill up the middle as he climbs the ladder—he could reach Double-A San Antonio quickly in 2023—but he has the baseball aptitude and athleticism to make a seamless transition to any of the other positions.
— Righthander Anderson Espinoza signed a minor league deal. The Padres traded Espinosa, 24, to the Cubs in July 2021 for outfielder Jake Marisnick. Once the Padres’ top prospect, Espinoza was derailed in San Diego by back-to-back Tommy John surgeries. He allowed 11 runs in 18.1 innings after making his MLB debut with the Cubs last year.
— The Padres also re-signed righthander Efrain Contreras to a minor league deal….