Friars extend ST invite to top prospect Salas

One of MLB's top prospects headlines list of 32 Padres NRIs

January 26th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- Ethan Salas, 17 years old and coming off his first professional season, is headed to big league camp.

The Padres unveiled their full list of 32 non-roster invites on Friday with Salas -- San Diego's top prospect in 2023 and an MLB Pipeline Top 10 prospect last season -- listed among them.

A number of the team's top prospects will be headed to Peoria, Ariz., next month -- including shortstop Jackson Merrill (the Padres' No. 2 prospect), left-hander Robby Snelling (No. 3) and right-hander Drew Thorpe (No. 6), all of whom ranked among MLB's top 100 prospects in 2023. Nine of San Diego’s top 30 prospects from last season will report to big league camp, which begins with pitchers and catchers set to report on Feb. 11.

Before getting to a few key takeaways, here's the list in full:

Catchers (3): Kevin Plawecki, Ethan Salas, Chandler Seagle

Infielders (6): Marcos Castañon, Mason McCoy, Jackson Merrill, Nate Mondou, Graham Pauley, Tyler Wade

Right-handers (12): Lake Bachar, Ryan Bergert, Drew Carlton, Yovanny Cruz, Matt Festa, Nick Hernandez, Kevin Kopps, Moises Lugo, Adam Mazur, Tommy Nance, Drew Thorpe, Nolan Watson

Left-handers (5): Daniel Camarena, Ryan Carpenter, Austin Krob, Jayvien Sandridge, Robby Snelling

Outfielders (6): Bryce Johnson, Jakob Marsee, Óscar Mercado, Calvin Mitchell, Tirso Ornelas, Robert Perez Jr.

Salas' next step
The 2023 season was full of firsts for Salas. He signed on Jan. 15, 2023, as the top-rated international prospect in the class. He debuted. He became the first 16-year-old to play full-season ball since Julio Urías. Then, he advanced as high as Double-A.

It should come as no surprise that the Padres invited Salas to Major League camp. They've tested him every step of the way, and they feel he's met every challenge.

"I'm really impressed by his ability," manager Mike Shildt said last month. "But I'm impressed by how together this dude is and how well he handles himself for everything that's been thrown at him."

Salas is the Padres' catcher of the future. At big league camp, he'll get the chance to work alongside veteran pitchers like Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish. He'll also continue to work with the slew of intriguing young arms in the organization -- among them Jairo Iriarte, Snelling, Thorpe and Mazur.

And -- who knows? -- if he impresses this spring, perhaps Salas could line himself up for a late-season callup to the big league club. At 18, that’d be an awfully quick progression. It would also be fully in line with the way San Diego has handled Salas’ progression thus far.

Opportunities galore
The Padres' big league roster remains incomplete, with holes left to fill in the rotation, bench and outfield. As such, it's impossible to pin down just how many places might be available.

But it already seems clear that San Diego intends to rely on its emergent farm system far more than it has in the recent past.

"There's legitimate guys down there that can contribute,” Shildt said. “And here's the thing about that contribution: No ceiling. Who knows what these guys could be? We could be looking at four guys that have 20-plus-year careers.

"But we also may just need that extra bullpen piece or the guy that comes in and helps platoon or is an everyday guy that can help contribute. We have a lot of different guys in our system that are going to contribute on some level to fill out a very competitive 26-man roster."

The outfield mix
The Padres still plan to add to the group of outfielders on their 40-man roster -- a group that is currently comprised of only Fernando Tatis Jr. and José Azocar.

Still, there will be big league jobs available even after San Diego adds an outfielder or two. This particular group of non-roster invitees is one to watch.

The Padres need a center fielder: Marsee, their No. 13 prospect, is the reigning Arizona Fall League MVP. Johnson is a switch-hitter who can defend and run.

The Padres need bench and corner-outfield options: Pauley and Merrill are infielders, but both have gotten reps in the outfield (and, critically, on a righty-heavy roster, both bat left-handed).

In an ideal world, San Diego would prefer to acquire two more outfielders, so it could let its group of prospects continue developing without being rushed to the big leagues. But in that same ideal world, the Padres would also leave the door open for anyone from that group to break through and win a big league job this spring.