Notes: Prospects visit SD; Pham; bullpen

September 5th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- and have shared various baseball diamonds since they were 14 years old, playing youth summer baseball together in Maryland. There's another baseball field they'd like to check off their list someday: Petco Park.

The two Padres draftees got their first taste of it on Saturday afternoon.

Merrill and Wood, the team's top two selections in the MLB Draft this past July, were on hand at Petco Park with their families on Saturday -- Wood's first visit here and Merrill's first since being drafted.

"The Draft is like the culmination of the work and the process," said Padres scouting director Mark Conner. "This is like a day to celebrate all the work that the scouts have put in. It's just fun to be here and see these guys get the chance to be on the big league field that we want to see them play on one day."

The two prospects -- MLB Pipeline ranks Wood fifth and Merrill sixth in the Padres’ system -- are off to excellent starts in the Arizona Complex League. Merrill is hitting .311 while playing a solid defensive shortstop, and Wood is batting .317 with a .419 on-base percentage as an outfielder.

Matthew Thomas/San Diego Padres

They're thriving on the field as the only two high schoolers the Padres selected in a Draft that was loaded with college players. They're also roommates off the field.

"We got lucky," Merrill said. "Us knowing each other, it helped us [ease] into it."

Stylistically, Merrill and Wood are two very different players -- Merrill a line-drive-hitting middle-infield type, and Wood a hulking 6-foot-7 slugger.

Their paths first crossed in summer ball half a decade ago. And although Wood moved away from Maryland and played his high school ball at IMG Academy in Florida, the two stayed in touch. When Wood was taken in the second round at No. 62 overall, Merrill, who was selected 35 picks earlier, instantly shot his old friend a text.

"You better be coming," Merrill said, and sure enough both signed relatively quickly. Since then, they’ve turned heads with their performances as first-year professionals.

"It's been a great experience just getting to know everybody and really getting to work," said Wood.

Pham returns to the lineup
A week after his most recent start, was back in the Padres' starting lineup on Saturday against the Astros, batting fourth and playing left field.

It's been a bit of a roller coaster for Pham this year. He struggled at the outset but then was one of the best hitters in baseball in June and early July. Lately, he has fallen back into a rut, having posted a slash line of just .163/.280/.300 since the start of August, entering Saturday.

Those struggles have coincided with Fernando Tatis Jr.'s move to the outfield, leaving starts somewhat few and far between for Pham. But he came through with a crucial pinch double in the fifth inning on Friday night, and manager Jayce Tingler remained emphatic in his belief that Pham is turning a corner.

"I thought yesterday, in his work, he was seeing the ball well -- which is the most important thing," Tingler said. "Swing-wise, he was really tight in his movements, the ball was snapping off his bat, it had carry. ... It's a combination of things. But right now I think he's seeing the ball well, and mechanically I think he feels like he's in a pretty good place."

Fatigue hampering the bullpen?
The Padres’ relief corps has thrown more innings than any other team in the National League. Going into Saturday, Padres relievers also had posted a 4.35 ERA since the start of August -- nearly a run and a half higher than their 2.93 mark beforehand.

Don't equate those two things, Tingler said.

"The combination of being able to add the extra guy or two [with roster expansion], and then the starting pitching -- it feels like they're starting to get on a roll -- so I don't think too much on the fatigue factor."

Nonetheless, the Padres once-vaunted bullpen ranks 21st in ERA since the start of August.