Could Padres’ non-roster invitee push top prospects off Opening Day roster?

There's no need to rush these prospects to the big leagues.

San Diego Padres outfielder Oscar Mercado
San Diego Padres outfielder Oscar Mercado / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Fernando Tatis Jr., the battle for a spot in the San Diego Padres outfield is one of the most hotly-contested competitions in Peoria this spring.

Jose Azocar and Jurickson Profar are the only other outfielders on San Diego's 40-man roster, and manager Mike Shidlt has been giving top prospects Jackson Merrill and Jakob Marsee plenty of opportunities to win a spot on the Padres Opening Day roster.

But one of the Padres non-roster invitees might be standing in the way of both Merrill and Marsee making their major league debut later this month. Óscar Mercado, a former top prospect in his own right with the Cleveland Guardians, has played extremely well this spring. So well, in fact, that Merrill and Marsee might have to put their major league debuts on hold.

Could Óscar Mercado push top prospects Jackson Merrill & Jakob Marsee off the Padres Opening Day roster?

Some Pads fans will casually dismiss this notion as they blindly follow the line of thinking that it's time for both Merrill and Marsee to dive in feet first. Even Tatis has been lobbying for Merrill to break camp with the big league club.

While major league prospects seem to be debuting younger and younger each year, there's absolutely no reason to rush Merrill or Marsee to the big leagues. Like Mercado, both prospects are non-roster invitees, and neither player needs to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2025 season.

Mercado, who's slugging over .700 in the Cactus League this spring, has a major league résumé to fall back on. The veteran, unlike Merrill, has plenty of experience in center field. Merrill's looked good in the outfield this spring and certainly has the athleticism to handle the position, but he has never started a professional game in center field.

Merrill has barely played above A-Ball and Marsee was active for just 16 games with the San Antonio Missions in 2023. Combined, the Padres two top prospects have played just 62 games at Double-A.

The Padres top prospects could use some more time in the minor leagues

The Padres could enter the 2024 season with an outfield of Tatis, Mercado, Profar, and Azocar while Merrill and Marsee continue to receive regular reps at Double-A/Triple-A. This would provide San Diego with a veteran-laden roster to begin the season and allow the duo of Merrill and Marsee to get the seasoning they need before making the leap to the major leagues.

If Mercado's bat stays hot over the next week or so, Shildt's decision should be relatively easy.

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