Padres’ top prospect tearing up AFL after injury-riddled 2022

The San Diego Padres used to flaunt MLB’s premier farm system. After a couple mammoth free agent signings, though, general manager A. J. Preller and the front office realized the club’s championship window opened and began gutting their loaded prospect pool in the name of chasing the playoffs.

That campaign came to a head before the 2022 trade deadline, when the Padres unloaded a plethora of prospects for the Nationals’ Juan Soto and Josh Bell, the Brewers’ Josh Hader and the Reds’ Brandon Drury.

After the trade deadline, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranked the Padres’ farm system as the No. 28 system in baseball. That’ll happen when you trade a whopping 11 prospects or recent prospects graduate in one deadline frenzy. Over the last 33 months, San Diego has offloaded more than 60 up-and-coming players.

When the dust settled, shortstop Jackson Merrill was left as the Padres’ top-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com. After hamstring and wrist injuries limited Merrill to just 45 games with Single-A Lake Elsinore this season, the Padres decided to send Merrill to the Arizona Fall League.

Despite being one of the youngest prospects in Arizona (he won’t turn 20 until April), Merrill is punching above his weight class.

Padres’ top prospect Jackson Merrill off to blazing start in Arizona Fall League

Merrill opened the season on fire, hitting .356 with a home run, two triples and .937 OPS through the first 11 games. The 19-year-old’s numbers have tailed off since, but he’s still slashing a respectable .292/.338/.403 with 10 RBI, 13 runs scored and two stolen bases in 18 games as one of the league’s youngest players.

Though a pleasant surprise, Merrill’s hot start in Arizona isn’t some flash in the pan. In a recent article, MLB.com’s Sam Dykstra revealed Merrill has impressed Padres officials with his versatility as a hitter following the 2021 draft.

Since going 27th overall in the 2021 Draft, the left-handed-hitting Maryland native has impressed San Diego officials with his timing at the plate and an ability to spray the ball to all fields and tap into good power for his age and position. He exhibited those skills early with Lake Elsinore — this year’s California League champion — by hitting .325/.387/.482 with 18 extra-base hits in his 219 plate appearances.

This past Wednesday, Merrill became just the fifth player in the league to reach the 20-hit threshold. Not too shabby for someone who was facing Double-A and Triple-A pitching for the first time in his young career. With popular commodities James Wood and Robert Hassell III, both top 40 prospects, getting dealt, Merrill is suddenly the crown jewel of a barren Padres prospect pool.

It’s too early to project when Merrill might join the big leagues, but his hot start in Arizona suggests he could blow through the minor league ranks.