Padres' top prospects moving on up for Minor League playoffs

August 22nd, 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.

After a collective off-day on Monday, the Padres' Minor League affiliates resume their respective seasons tonight -- with rosters that look notably different.

The Padres shook things up in a big way this week with a number of prospect promotions, including this headlinertop prospect  to Double-A San Antonio at just 17 years old.

"His skill level is advanced for his age," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller, stating the obvious. "But also, again, putting people around better players is something that we talk about as a group. You combine a guy that's hungry for those challenges with the work ethic and skill level that has earned him this opportunity."

It’s never been a secret that the Padres are ridiculously high on Salas. That much was clear when they gave him a locker in their big league clubhouse on the day he signed in January as the top international prospect. It was further clear when they gave him playing time in big league Spring Training at age 16.

The Padres view Salas as their catcher of the future. And -- who knows? -- maybe that future isn't too far away.

Still, it's fair to wonder about the speed at which Salas is progressing. He only spent nine games at High-A Fort Wayne with a .472 OPS. Some in the sport have wondered whether the Padres are pushing Salas too quickly, perhaps hindering his growth.

All along, the Padres have countered by noting that the best thing for Salas' growth -- and that of all of their young prospects -- is to be challenged. Hard to call this promotion anything but a challenge. Salas becomes the youngest player in Double-A and is believed to be the youngest player at that level since at least 2014.

"He's a guy that our group feels can be challenged," Preller said. "It's also about him playing with -- we have a group of players that were at Fort Wayne, and they're going to get an opportunity in Double-A to play in the playoffs down the stretch.

"Similar to some of the experiences he's had so far, where he played winter ball and then Spring Training, I think it's just more of a chance for him to see some higher level pitchers and players and continue on his development path."

As Preller noted, Double-A San Antonio is bound for the postseason, having won the first-half title in the Texas League. Salas isn’t the only newcomer on that team.

Fellow top prospects Robby Snelling (Padres' No. 3 prospect, MLB Pipeline's No. 64 overall), Nathan Martorella (Padres' No. 10), Graham Pauley (No. 11) and Jakob Marsee (No. 12) are all slated to join the Missions.

Additionally, the Padres’ No. 4 and No. 5 prospects -- right-hander Dylan Lesko and outfielder Samuel Zavala, respectively -- have progressed to Fort Wayne. This year's top Draft pick, outfielder Dillon Head, also made the jump to Single-A Lake Elsinore.

That's a lot of movement -- almost exclusively from players who have joined the organization in the past 13 months. The Padres' recent Draft classes already seem like major organizational victories.

Consider MLB Pipeline's recent ranking of farm systems. After everything the Padres gave up last summer to acquire Juan Soto and Josh Hader, plus the Draft capital they sacrificed to sign Xander Bogaerts, our experts still ranked this group as No. 9 out of 30.

"It's a lot of guys that have been in the organization for less than a year," Preller said of the promotions. "I think it speaks to our coaching staff and our Minor League staff, being able to on-board those guys in a good way … and continuing to develop those tools and those skills to allow us to see performance. When you see that, you want to reward those players. And that's what our player development group has decided to do."