17 and ready: De Vries set to impress

March 13th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Leodalis De Vries signed in January. A few weeks later, he boarded a plane for the first time in his life en route to Padres Spring Training.

The 17-year-old shortstop with the sweet swing from both sides of the plate arrived and took his pre-camp physical on March 2. On March 3, he was on a primary back field, participating in an intrasquad game chock full of big leaguers.

"I got here one day, and they told me the next day that I had practice and that I was going to be facing some of the big league guys," De Vries, the top international prospect in this year's class, said through interpreter Danny Sanchez. "It was a surprise, but it was a welcome challenge."

Two weeks after his arrival from the Dominican Republic, De Vries will star for the Padres in Friday's Spring Breakout game against the Mariners -- a showdown featuring top prospects from both organizations. De Vries is the youngest player in the league-wide event. The game will be broadcast on MLB Network, and De Vries might get to start at shortstop or at least play there for part of the game.

"I feel proud to be included," De Vries said. "I've worked hard to be able to compete and be a part of something like that. With the roster that we have, it's something that I'm looking forward to, that I'm really proud to be a part of."

San Diego's Spring Breakout roster is as loaded as any in baseball. Headlining the group is catcher , the team's top-ranked prospect and MLB Pipeline's No. 8 overall.

A year before De Vries, Salas ranked as the top international prospect before signing with the Padres. The two have known each other since a 2023 workout in the Dominican Republic.

"He's a beast," Salas said. "He's a really good kid, and I think he's going to do really well. He carries himself well, and he always plays his heart out. Kid's talented."

All last summer, De Vries watched intently as Salas progressed through the Padres' system as quickly as any young prospect in recent memory. Salas became the first 16-year-old to play full-season pro ball since Julio Urías a decade before.

But he didn't stop there. Salas moved as high as Double-A San Antonio, where he teamed with some of the organization's top pitching prospects and was part of a playoff run. This spring, at just 17, Salas participated in his first big league camp.

De Vries, a highly sought-after potential five-tool shortstop, took note.

"Yeah, that was my mentality, basically watching and thinking, 'If that's how they're treating him and elevating him, then hopefully they can do the same with me,'" he said. "That's why I work hard, to be able to put myself in that position."

Double-A might be a stretch for De Vries this season. But then again, maybe it's not. Thus far, the Padres have challenged De Vries in the same ways they challenged Salas. He even appeared in his first big league Spring Training game on Tuesday, making a couple plays at short while striking out in his only at-bat.

De Vries' first at-bat on a Cactus League backfield -- heck, his first at-bat anywhere outside of the Dominican Republic -- was against Padres right-hander Alek Jacob, a 40-man roster player contending for a place in the big league bullpen.

De Vries took strike one at the knees, then strike two on the inside corner before he stepped out of the box and composed himself. He shortened his swing on a down-and-in slider and lined it to left for a base hit. A few pitches later, he took off for second -- his first stolen base. He would later come around to score.

"His first plane flight ever, leaving the island for the first time. For him to come over and just jump right in, it was super impressive," farm director Ryley Westman said. "He's been impressive right out of the gate."

De Vries is the No. 6 prospect in a system that's been revamped over the past 18 months. More than ever, the Padres seem poised to rely on that system to carry them into the future. They're expected to have a handful of prospects on their Opening Day roster.

"This is a great group of guys that we have," De Vries said. "As you project forward, it's a really talented group of guys and a lot of guys that can take this organization to high places."