Padres’ star rookie is heating up, giving team yet another glimmer of hope in 2024

After forcing the Padres' hand in spring training, this San Diego rookie is trending up in a big way.
San Diego Padres v New York Mets
San Diego Padres v New York Mets / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

Whenever any team asks a rookie to change positions, it's often a recipe for disaster (at least at the start). Despite some fans' belief that certain positions (corner outfield, first base) are easy and can be played by anyone, each position has its own idiosyncrasies that take time and reps to learn.

However, the San Diego Padres' overabundance of infielders and decided lack of outfielders forced them to make that exact decision with Jackson Merrill.

Merrill had been considered one of the Padres' best prospects for a while now, but he was a shortstop by trade and San Diego didn't have enough spots for the infielders they already had coming into spring training. However, the Padres decided to try Merrill in the outfield, and after an impressive spring on both sides of the ball, San Diego ultimately carried Merrill on the Opening Day roster.

It is most fortunate that the Padres gave Merrill that chance because not only is he holding his own in the big leagues — he is absolutely thriving.

Jackson Merrill's emergence as a future star is exactly what the Padres needed

Most rookies struggle at their first look at the big leagues and have to make numerous adjustments along the way before they get their feet under them. While that day may come for Merrill while he is not a finished product, he has looked comfortable in the majors from the moment he took the field for the first time. Through his first 257 plate appearances in the big leagues, he is hitting .278 with seven homers, including four in his last five games along with nine stolen bases. Not bad, rook ... not bad.

In even better news, Merrill's peripherals suggest that more production should be on the way. Merrill has been avoiding strikeouts and hitting the ball with authority all year long, with his expected batting average and expected slugging all grading out as elite. Sooner or later, those hard-hit balls are going to stop finding as many gloves and his numbers should continue to improve, assuming he keeps the same approach. That said, it would be great if he could start drawing some more walks.

As for his defense, the biggest question mark for Merrill given his position switch, he has been objectively fantastic. His three Outs Above Average in the outfield has him in the 88th percentile, and his arm strength has received high marks. Despite having been an infielder throughout his time in the minors, Merrill has managed to turn into a plus outfield defender as a rookie.

Hopefully Padres fans understand how remarkable it is to have a guy as talented as Merrill around and that it gives them hope that the future is very bright in San Diego with him in the fold.

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