The Padres are about to make their worst kept secret official

Jackson Merrill made sure to make the most of his opportunity this spring.

San Diego Padres v LG Twins
San Diego Padres v LG Twins / Masterpress/GettyImages

Coming into spring training, the San Diego Padres looked like they were going to have to make some tough decisions with their outfield. After trading away both Juan Soto and Trent Grisham, the Padres had two very sizable holes in their roster without clear answers as to how they were going to fill them.

With the team looking to trim payroll, the expectation was that San Diego would focus on internal candidates to at least partially fill the void, and the concern was that none of the Padres' position prospects who were close to big league-ready bats played in the outfield. Those worries were quickly dissipated after the work Jackson Merrill did this spring.

An infielder by trade, Merrill came into camp and blew everyone's hair back with how quickly he adjusted to playing in the outfield with no noticeable drop-off at the plate. Fortunately, the Padres don't appear to have overthought this one and the widespread expectation now is that San Diego will name Merrill their Opening Day center fielder.

Jackson Merrill winning a Padres Opening Day roster spot shouldn't surprise anyone

There are some baseball reasons why San Diego wouldn't name Merrill to the Opening Day roster. He is a very highly regarded prospect, and starting his service clock now lets him hit free agency a full year sooner than holding him down until later in the season would've. Additionally, he still has very limited playing time in the outfield, and giving him some more reps out there in the minors makes some sense.

However, Merrill made his case this spring in a big way. In addition to looking very comfortable in the outfield, Merrill has also slashed .351/.400/.595 with a couple homers and three stolen bases. Spring training numbers aren't the gospel, nor should they be, but taken with his performance in the minor leagues, it was clear that he is ready for the bigs.

Kudos to Merrill for making this decision a formality, despite his being just 20 years old. Manager Mike Shildt has been effusive with praise for him since the start of spring, and every time that Merrill has needed to check a box, he has done so resoundingly. No one is wondering if he can play in the outfield or if he is ready for a big league opportunity anymore because he earned that respect. All he has to prove now is that he can do this when the games count for real -- and for a full season. We'll find out soon enough if he can pull that off.

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