The life of a 17-year-old prodigy

June 8th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox

How did you celebrate your 17th birthday? Probably not quite like Ethan Salas.

The top international prospect in this year’s class, Salas made his professional debut at the Padres’ Single-A affiliate Lake Elsinore last week. He has begun his pro career by hitting .300/.482/.500 through six games. He also turned 17 a week ago.

Make no mistake, the Padres were taking a chance when they decided to start Salas at Single-A. Prospects Salas’ age often spend their first professional season in the Dominican Summer League. The advanced players? They start their careers at Spring Training facilities in the Arizona Complex League. The rest of them? Well, they’re usually still completing their senior year of high school.

But Single-A? For a 16-year-old? Just doesn’t happen very often. The Dodgers’ Julio Urías did so in 2013. Even for a 17-year-old, Salas is just the third player in the past five seasons to play in the California League in his age-17 season.

Salas, the Padres’ No. 3 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 86 overall, is proving that he’s ready. It’s not merely the homer or the already-excellent plate discipline. (He’s walked seven times in his first 27 plate appearances.) It’s the way Salas comports himself.

In the early innings Tuesday night, Salas struck out twice. His response? He didn’t sulk. In fact, according to one person who was there, Salas grabbed the dugout iPad and made a point to watch his at-bats with the team’s hitting coach to try and decipher how he was being attacked. In his fourth at-bat, he launched a no-doubter to right-center.

That, the Padres say, is the epitome of Ethan Salas.

He’s not your average 17-year-old ballplayer. I learned this back in January the first time I talked to him. Actually, it was the fact that we even got to talk to him. The Padres are organizationally cautious about thrusting their prospects into the limelight. But they invited Salas to Petco Park, gave him a locker and unveiled him to the media. That told me two things:

They thought Salas was special.

They thought he could handle the pressures that come along with being a special prospect.

So far, so good. There will obviously be growing pains for Salas. The Padres are still careful about putting too much on his plate too fast. He’ll only catch a couple of games per week, likely DH-ing in some others. But for now, they’ve seen no reason to think Salas can’t handle what they’re asking of him.

“Credit to Ethan for how he has jumped in at Lake Elsinore and played so well,” Padres farm director Ryley Westman said in a text. “For a 16-year-old to make their debut at the Single-A level, everything has to really line up. Our international scouting group did a fantastic job identifying the talent of Ethan, but also the makeup.”

Given ’s recent explosion, things are looking bright for the Padres’ current catching situation. But their future behind the plate looks even brighter.