Are Padres turning top shortstop prospect into utility player?

The Padres' abundance of infielders may force a position change of sorts for Jackson Merrill.

San Diego Padres shortstop Jackson Merrill
San Diego Padres shortstop Jackson Merrill / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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The San Diego Padres are overflowing with infielders. Xander Bogaerts, Ha-Seong Kim, Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth, if healthy, will be on the field for the Padres on Opening Day.

Seeing the infield glut may have sparked Padres' top infield prospect Jackson Merrill to challenge himself this offseason. According to MLB.com, Merrill spend his offseason gathering reps at shortstop, second base, left field and center field.

Merrill, a top-100 prospect, obviously sees the writing on the wall; the best way for him to accelerate his path to the big leagues, and increase his playing time once he arrives, is by adding versatility to his game.

Are Padres turning top prospect, Jackson Merrill, into utility player?

This isn't foreign territory, especially for young players. Oftentimes it's the best way to find one's footing in the big leagues. Besides, it's ultimately going to be Merrill's bat, not his glove, that sees him make it to the majors. That said, he can't be a defensive liability either.

Allowing Merrill to take on a utility role not only helps broaden his repertoire, it also offers the Padres an alternative plan for Ha-Seong Kim's current situation. The Friars' best defensive infielder has been the subject of trade talks lately. However, Padres President of Baseball Operations AJ Preller has recently discussed the possibility of a contract extension with the Gold Glove-winning shortstop.

Should Kim be traded later this year or depart via free agency next winter, Merrill would presumably slide into his role on the infield dirt. However, if Kim and Padres come to an agreement on a new deal that would keep him in San Diego for the foreseeable future, having the ability to push Merrill onto the outfield grass would help manager Mike Shildt to put the best nine players on the field.

While some Pads fans despise the idea of having a super-utility player, the game has become more and more position-less. Young players, especially, are being asked to take on multiple positions in order to give the manager an increased number of options based on pitching matchups or defensive alignments.

The Friars lack of outfield depth adds credence to the idea of adding positional versatility to Merrill's game. While it seems unlikely that the 20-year-old will break camp with the Padres, gaining experience at various positions other than shortstop could influence how quickly he arrives in the big leagues.

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