More than Merrill trying to leap to Majors

February 29th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As the Padres weigh roster construction, Jackson Merrill is not the only young position player who could provide an impact.

On a team that skews right-handed, young lefty hitters , and have seen significant time early in Cactus League play after moving quickly through the Padres’ system a year ago. All finished at Double-A San Antonio, although none had more than 23 games there.

It might be a leap to consider them in the roster mix for Opening Day, but the move is not unprecedented.

“You look historically,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said, “[there are players with] a half-year at Double-A who have played a long time in the big leagues. It’s really a case-by-case situation. They are here, they are acclimating, they are going about it the right way.”

Why not aim high?

“It’s been my goal my whole life, so why would I set it on anything else?” Marsee said about breaking camp with the team. “At the same time, I don’t let it get in my head. If it works out, it will work out. If not, then it will come at a different time. But I’m just going to keep working hard to be the best I can be and keep playing to win games.”

Marsee, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Padres’ No. 13 prospect, is the lone outfielder among those three. Scouts consider him a true center fielder, where the Padres are looking to identify a starter from among a group of candidates that includes Merrill, third-year big leaguer José Azocar and non-roster invitee Óscar Mercado.

Pauley, who has played third base most of his Minor League career, started at first base Thursday in the Padres' 5-3 victory over Oakland in Mesa, Ariz. The Padres have incumbent Jake Cronenworth at first.

“These are some of the best players in the world, so I think any bits and pieces about the game that you can get from them helps a ton,” said Pauley, the club’s No. 12 prospect. “Whether I help this team at the beginning of the year, the end of the year, any point in the year, that’s my goal.”

Martorella, the Padres’ No. 11 prospect, had a slash line of .255/.361/.437 with 19 homers and 88 RBIs at two stops last year.

The Padres walk a fine line of balancing present needs with development.

Merrill, the Padres’ No. 2 prospect, played center field for the first time Wednesday after shifting from shortstop to the outfield this spring. He was back in left field on Thursday. He is 20 years old. Marsee is 22. Pauley and the first baseman Martorella are 23.

The Padres have chosen youth before. CJ Abrams was 21 and had played only 42 games above Single-A when he made the 2022 Opening Day roster and started the second game of the season at shortstop.

Marsee, a sixth-round Draft pick in 2022, had five homers and 16 stolen bases in 24 games with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League to earn the league's Joe Black MVP Award. At two Minor League stops in 2023, he slashed .274/.413/.428 with 16 homers, 46 RBIs and 46 stolen bases.

Marsee brings a throwback approach to the plate -- 128 walks and 122 strikeouts in his 160 Minor League games.

“I am really into my approach,” Marsee said. “I try to stick to that and am pretty stubborn when it comes to it. A lot of people think I am up there being patient and timid, but that’s not what I’m doing at all. I’m going to make him give me my pitch. And when I do, I’m going to hit it.

“I think I’m more valuable being on base than I am on the bench. So any way I can help my team score, I try to do that."

Pauley profiles as a power corner bat. At three levels a year ago. he slashed .308/.393/.539 with 32 doubles, 23 homers and 94 RBIs.

“There are a lot of guys who come up and play in different positions, based on the team’s construction,” Shildt said. “It is an opportunity for him to go play, get those at-bats that people are wanting to see and get him on the field -- an opportunity for him and see what it looks like.”

Said Pauley: “I’m not too focused on spots available. I just focus on helping the people around me get better and helping myself get better. Whatever happens happens.”