Padres boast 5 on 2024 Top 100 Prospects list

January 27th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- Eighteen months after it was left for dead, the Padres' farm system is alive and well.

On Friday, MLB Pipeline unveiled its Top 100 Prospects list ahead of the 2024 season, and five Padres checked in, led by catcher Ethan Salas at No. 8. Only the Cubs and Orioles had more players ranked. It’s a notable statement for a club that moved so much of its young talent at the 2022 Trade Deadline.

Here's a quick look at where the five Padres fit:

Those numbers are mostly in line with that group's midseason 2023 rankings -- with one notable exception. Snelling, coming off a dominant debut season, jumped 24 spots from No. 60 overall to No. 36. He's MLB Pipeline's third-highest-rated left-handed pitcher, after a season in which he posted a 1.82 ERA and advanced as high as Double-A San Antonio.

Salas remains the prize of the group, having authored a strong debut season in 2023 as well. He became the first player since Julio Urías to play full-season ball as a 16-year-old, and he mostly held his own while manning one of the sport's toughest positions.

"He's like this old soul that just kind of gets it," Padres manager Mike Shildt said at the Winter Meetings last month. "It's very impressive how he handles himself. Clearly I'm going to get to know him further and deeper. I'm really impressed by his ability. But I'm impressed by how together this dude is and how well he handles himself for everything that's been thrown at him."

Merrill and Thorpe, meanwhile, are the likeliest contributors to the 2024 Padres. Merrill figures to compete for a utility role in camp this spring. If he doesn't win it, he's expected to break through at some point this summer. Thorpe, meanwhile, bested Snelling for MLB Pipeline's Prospect Pitcher of the Year last season.

Thorpe led all Minor League pitchers with 182 strikeouts while notching a 2.52 ERA in the Yankees’ system before he arrived in the Juan Soto deal last month. Thorpe will compete for a rotation spot (though it’s more likely he will begin the year in the Minors).

Lesko, a hard-throwing 20-year-old right-hander, is a bit further away, having finished the 2023 season at High-A Fort Wayne. But he’s considered a breakout prospect to watch this season and another reminder of the ways in which the Padres have again rebooted their farm system under general manager A.J. Preller.

Following Preller's blockbuster 2022 Trade Deadline -- which included the deal that sent Soto to San Diego -- the Padres' system was depleted. In the 18 months since, Preller has revived it with shrewd signings and Draft picks. Earlier this month 17-year-old shortstop Leodalis De Vries, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked international prospect, signed with San Diego. Center fielder Jakob Marsee, a sixth-round Draft pick in 2022, was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League this offseason.

The big league roster remains full of question marks. On that front, there’s still plenty of work for Preller to do before Opening Day. Still, it’s a near certainty that the Padres will have to count on their revamped farm system to some extent in 2024.

If the rankings released Friday are any indication, they’ve got the high-level pieces to do it.