Top international signee makes spring cameo at age 16

Padres use Salas behind the plate in Cactus League game vs. White Sox

March 12th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It wasn't until arrived at the Peoria Sports Complex on Saturday morning that he learned he would be catching the back half of the Padres' Cactus League tilt against the White Sox.

Quite the responsibility to hand to a 16-year-old backstop. But that should tell you all you need to know about the way the Padres feel about Salas' abilities -- both mental and physical.

Salas, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the top prospect in this year’s international signing class, has drawn rave reviews for his work all spring. His Cactus League debut was merely the next step for a catcher who should progress quickly in the San Diego system.

"I tried to take it as any other game," said Salas, the No. 3 Padres prospect. "I was pretty relaxed. I was happy to finally be out here; it was what I've been working for. So it was great."

Salas played four innings and helped put the finishing touches on the Padres’ 6-5 victory. In his lone at-bat, he hit a sharp groundout to first.

"For a 16-year-old kid behind the plate, I'll tell you, ‘He's well beyond his years,’" said Padres manager Bob Melvin, himself a longtime big league catcher who understands the rigors of the position. "You watch the way he frames pitches -- a couple balls in the dirt got by him -- but he has his wits about him. ... It's pretty incredible to see a 16-year-old with that kind of composure."

Salas signed with the Padres in January for $5.6 million, essentially the entirety of their international bonus pool. He spent a chunk of the next month at Petco Park before arriving early in Peoria, well before Minor League camp.

"It's been a lot of fun getting to know a lot of the guys, getting to know everybody on the staff, really cool people around us here," Salas said. "[I'm] just trying to get better every single day, improve my craft, stay sharp."

It's unclear where Salas will begin his professional career, but assistant director of player development Mike Daly recently confirmed that the catcher would do so stateside. Typically, young international signees begin their pro careers in the Dominican Summer League, but Salas appears destined to open the year in the Arizona Rookie League. It's not inconceivable to think Salas could be playing full-season ball for Single-A Lake Elsinore soon enough -- and he doesn't turn 17 until June.

"Age is just a number," Salas said. "I've been prepared for this. I think my preparation is really good -- my routine, everything I've been working for in the gym, in the after-hours. I think it's gone pretty well. [Today was] Just another normal game for me."

A normal game for him, maybe. But a 16-year-old earning plaudits for catching a big league pitching staff? Anything but normal.