Padres' Merrill showcasing talents in Fall League

October 27th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. – When hits, he has the propensity to stack up knocks in bunches. Such was the case again during Peoria’s 5-5 10-inning tie against Glendale on Wednesday afternoon at Camelback Ranch as the Padres’ top-ranked prospect collected two more singles to raise his Fall League average to .308 through 16 contests.

Between the regular season and Single-A Lake Elsinore’s run to the California League championship, Merrill enjoyed a multihit performance in 27 of his 59 appearances, including all four playoff games. He kickstarted his day for Peoria with a rocket single to right in the fourth off a hanging breaking ball, before swiping second base; he was back at it the next frame, driving an RBI knock through the middle of the diamond.

“Just staying on a pitch that I like,” Merrill said of his approach. “Not necessarily a fastball or slider or a single pitch but sitting on a location in the zone that I want. If I want middle-away, try to go to left-center; if I want middle-in, go to right-center; or just middle in general, hit it all over the field. 

“That’s what I’ve stuck with since pro ball started.”

San Diego selected Merrill with the 27th overall pick in the 2021 Draft out of Severna Park (HS), Md., wooing the University of Kentucky commit with a $1.8 million offer. Since then, his approach to hitting has played, so long as he’s been on the field. A wrist injury knocked out most of his summer, but he played just one game all year long with his batting average below .300.

The Fall League has proven to be a showcase for Merrill, who at 19 years old, had yet to face pitching above Single-A prior to his arrival. He has proven himself adept at handling the rigors of advanced arms by sticking with his approach at the dish and embracing the step up in competition.

“I kind of like the different pitchers, it’s more of a challenge,” Merrill said of the AFL’s new faces. “Honestly, here, it’s just: Show off your skills, get [to face] some good pitching.”

Even with Double-A and Triple-A arms present in the Fall League, Merrill became just the fifth player in the league to reach the 20-hit plateau during Wednesday’s game. After a season in which he slashed .339/.395/.511 between Lake Elsinore and the Arizona Complex League, MLB’s No. 83 overall prospect has been a fixture at the heart of the Javelinas’ order despite his relative youth and limited pro experience.

While Merrill’s bat has been on display in his first taste of affiliate and fall ball, he has continued to hone his defensive tools while in Arizona as well. At 6-foot-3, there is the possibility that he outgrows shortstop, the only position he has played thus far as a pro. But he need look no further than the Peoria manager’s seat for a blueprint on what being an athletic, rangy shortstop in the bigs can look like.

Reid Brignac spent nine years in the Majors with six different clubs, with shortstop being the primary position for the 6-foot-2 skipper, who is now the manager of the Mets’ Double-A affiliate. Merrill, who made a slick backhanded play in the sixth to nab a runner attempting to advance to third, has worked closely with Brignac while in Arizona.

“[Brignac] has said to me throughout the Fall League, ‘I don’t want to take away from your bag [of tools], I just want to add to it,’” Merrill said. “So I’ve learned some good things – double play feeds, a bunch of stuff from him while I’ve been here. He’s a really good person, really good coach.”