How two All-Star OFs helped cultivate a third

July 8th, 2024

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

knows what it's like to be called up at a young age as a highly regarded prospect. does, too.

So this spring, when the Padres called up a highly regarded prospect and asked him to man center field … well, it helped that a then-20-year-old would be playing in between two guys who knew the feeling. They'd lived it themselves.

Three months later, the Padres have an outfield full of All-Stars. Tatis and Profar were named as starters last week, and Merrill was announced as a reserve for the NL All-Star team on Sunday afternoon. It’s the first time in franchise history they’ve sent three outfielders to the All-Star Game.

“That's incredible,” said Profar. “This guy's only 21 years old, and he's doing amazing things in the big leagues.”

Merrill became the first Padres rookie to be named to an All-Star team, and next week, he will become the youngest Padre to play in an All-Star Game. Quite an achievement for a center fielder who had never played the position at any level prior to Spring Training.

There are numerous reasons Merrill has fit seamlessly into the Padres’ clubhouse and into their outfield. First and foremost: He’s good. In the first half of the season, Merrill has been one of the team’s best players. But it runs much deeper than that. Merrill is comfortable, in part, because he has been embraced so readily by the players around him.

“I'm talking in general here,” said Padres manager Mike Shildt. “But at this level, there are few people that can really relate. You have well-intended people that can support you and encourage you and all those things. Unless you have people that can really share those experiences and walked in your shoes -- having those people that can do that, pour into you that experience, it's really, really important. [Tatis and Profar] have.”

And, sure, Merrill has spent plenty of time picking the brains of Tatis and Profar -- particularly with outfield-related questions. The son of two teachers, Merrill is constantly seeking out knowledge.

But, to be clear, these are not teacher-pupil relationships. Not even close. Tatis, Profar and Merrill operate on the same plane, despite the age difference. They’re teammates and they’re equals. It probably helps that Tatis and Profar were already two of the team’s most demonstrative and flamboyant on-field presences. Merrill fits right in.

“They let me have fun," Merrill said. “They let me be a 21-year-old. They don't expect the world from me. They just expect me to do my part. ... They let me have fun, and that's the most important thing to me.”

Do your part and have fun … why would they ever ask anything else of Merrill?

“There's not a lot of things that we had to teach him,” Profar said. “He's just a really, really good player. We need him. The only thing that we can do is help him feel comfortable. The rest? He's pretty mature already. … There's not a lot that we have to tell him. Just go and play. And he's been amazing.”