Jackson Merrill headlines Padres prospects in Arizona Fall League

As one season comes to a close, another one opens.

The Arizona Fall League begins its six-week long season on Oct. 3 and the rosters for all six teams were announced on Friday. Each team is comprised of the top prospects of five MLB organizations and the San Diego Padres are a part of the Peoria Javelinas along with the Guardians, Mets, Mariners and Nationals. 

Chief among the Padres’ seven player contingent is shortstop Jackson Merrill. Despite not yet reaching Double-A, he is going to the AFL as one of 16 Top 100 prospects entering the league. 

The 19-year-old infielder was picked by the Padres in the first round of last year’s MLB Draft out of high school and instantly rose to the rank of top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Merrill, a University of Kentucky commit, became the highest draft pick among prep position players in the history of Maryland when San Diego selected him with the 27th pick.  

“Coming from Maryland is cool. It’s not a lot of great talent out there,” Merrill said in a Q&A with “I just really wanted to get out here and just start proving myself. I didn’t want to wait. But it was probably one of the coolest days of my life.”  

Merrill signed for below slot value at $1.8 million and hit the ground running with a .280/.339/.383 slash line over 31 games in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League. 

Merrill merely got better as he climbed the organizational ladder. He’s batting .325 with an .869 OPS in 45 games during his first full season with the Single-A Lake Elsinore. 

Between playing in Arizona and Southern California coming out of high school in Baltimore, Merrill experienced a bit of culture shock entering his minor league career, one that was exacerbated by suffering a wrist injury and having to spend almost two months rehabbing it. 

“It’s been a weird, weird ride,” Merrill said. “After the Draft, I went out, obviously, played a season and didn’t really suffer through any injuries or anything. I got to the season this year, was out in Cali for like two weeks and then the fractured wrist kind of threw everything off. So going back to Arizona for three months really was kind of hard. Not like physically at all. But mentally it was like, ‘Damn, I’ve been grinding this long. And now I have to go rehab like more to get back to where I was.’ But honestly, I got through rehab pretty well. And I think I came back stronger than when I left.” 

Through his rehab, the 6-foot-3 shortstop improved his footwork and hip mobility, something about the position that mattered more than he originally understood. 

“Honestly, I think that has played a bigger part of my game than I thought,” Merrill said. 

Given his frame and impending growth, a move somewhere else in the infield might be in his future, especially considering that Fernando Tatis Jr. is blocking the way to the big leagues at shortstop. 

“I haven’t played a different position yet,” Merrill said. “I’ve played short every game that I’ve played. Honestly, I think it’s just going to take a lot of effort to keep my speed and my lateral movements, my first steps and all that pretty clean so that I don’t get moved to third, second or first, honestly.”

Along with Merrill, the Padres are sending over OF Joshua Mears (No. 14 ranked prospect), IF Nerwilian Cedeno (No. 26), and pitchers Chris Lincoln, Alek Jacob (No. 24), Jordan Guerrero and Efrain Conterras (No. 25). 

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