Merrill makes major impression before return to Minors

March 19th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With their entire Major League infield back in camp, the Padres no longer had much playing time available for . As such, this news came as a formality:

The team reassigned Merrill to Minor League camp on Saturday morning, putting an end to his first big league Spring Training.

Merrill, the Padres' top prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, made quite an impression.

"Man, he is fantastic with everything he does," manager Bob Melvin said. "And that's before you get to sit with him in the dugout and listen to who he is as a person. ... Defense, offense, maturity, how he processes -- it's all so impressive for a young age."

With , and at the World Baseball Classic, the 19-year-old Merrill got plenty of reps against big league-caliber pitching this spring. He played in 14 games and hit .258 with a double and five RBIs in 31 at-bats.

In short, Merrill held his own, both at the plate and at shortstop. Considering his talent level -- Merrill is MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect -- why wouldn’t he?

"I've kind of learned that it's the same exact game,” Merrill said earlier this week. “It’s no different to me. … It’s the same thing, just more people, louder crowd, better pitching, obviously. Everyone is better. The competition is incredible. But there’s no different feeling in the box, whether I’m in a Minor League game or a big league game."

It's unclear what awaits Merrill next. He had a slash line of .339/.395/.511 between Rookie ball and Single-A last season, so he's almost certainly due to a promotion to a higher level.

"He’s going to be a quick mover," Melvin said. "Where? Here at what point in time? I don’t know -- we’ve got a lot of guys covering those [infield] positions. But when you’re that good, you find a way. So I expect him to be a really quick mover to the big leagues."

Merrill is the top prize in a Padres farm system that is showing new life after it was decimated by a flurry of trades last summer. Right-hander also checks in in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 (at No. 100 overall). Meanwhile, 16-year-old catcher , this year’s top-ranked international signing, has drawn rave reviews.

Merrill will continue getting at-bats with the big league club, even while he’s in Minors camp, Melvin said. The shortstop has more than earned that right.

"First couple [games], for sure, you’re a little nervous," Merrill said. "But everyone’s nervous. You get in the box, it's like a serenity place. You just get in there, and you lock in. Everything's quiet. You focus on the pitcher; you do what you need to do."

Merrill's spring wasn't without hiccups. He misplayed a popup on Friday night. He fell into a bit of an early March funk at the plate. In the Padres' eyes, that's just fine. In fact, it's precisely what these reps are for. They want Merrill to be learning.

To that extent, Melvin noted how pleased he was to see Merrill in the dugout for nine innings on a regular basis, even after he'd been removed from the game. (The typical spring ritual is for players to head back to the clubhouse half an inning after they've exited.)

"He's out there trying to learn," Melvin said. "Couldn't be more proud of how he goes about his business and the trajectory that he's on."