Padres' Salas joins Single-A ... at 16 years old

May 31st, 2023

A 16-year-old has come to the California League.

San Diego officially added to its Single-A Lake Elsinore roster on Tuesday. Batting second and serving as the designated hitter in his Minor League debut, MLB's No. 86 prospect doubled and singled in his first two professional at-bats before walking and scoring the go-ahead run in a 3-1 win over Visalia.

The move comes a little more than four months after the Venezuelan catcher signed with San Diego for $5.6 million at the opening of the 2023 international signing window.

Salas, who turns 17 on Thursday, becomes the first member of that international class to appear in the Minors and the first 2006-born player to debut in the Minor Leagues. Angels outfielder Nelson Rada, who was born in August 2005, was previously the youngest Minor Leaguer to see game action this season.

San Diego officials have been enamored with Salas’ tools since he first entered the organization, most specifically his advanced feel for the finer parts of catching – namely receiving, framing and communicating. Shortly after signing, the teenager worked with Major League arms, including Yu Darvish, in offseason bullpens and quickly won over veterans. His smooth left-handed swing helps him project as a future plus hitter in the Majors, while his power should be average.

"He's kind of the total-package catcher,” scouting director Chris Kemp said after the Padres signed Salas this winter. “It's just rare. This is my ninth year doing international scouting and, for us, this is the most interesting guy we've scouted."

The Padres backed up their early confidence in the backstop by giving him a Cactus League appearance this spring on March 11. He caught four innings in that game against the White Sox and grounded out to second in his only at-bat. Right shoulder soreness delayed Salas some this spring, but he returned to action in extended spring training earlier this month and looked healthy enough to make the jump over the Arizona Complex League come Tuesday.

Since 2018, only two players have seen the Single-A level in their age-17 seasons: Rada and Padres outfielder Samuel Zavala. Unlike Salas, both batters had already seen complex-level play before jumping to full-season ball, making the catcher’s advanced jump all the more unprecedented in recent times.

The most notable example of a teenager making a similar leap was when Julio Urías debuted for Single-A Great Lakes at 16 years old on May 26, 2013.