17 and sizzling at Single-A: Salas notches first 4-hit night

July 27th, 2023

From the moment the Padres inked Ethan Salas to a professional contract in January, the preternaturally gifted catcher has carried lofty expectations. His first foray into the affiliate ball ranks has proven that not only can the 17-year-old carry his own, he’s lapping any preconceived notions of how quickly a teenager can become a full-blown phenom.

July has been a banner month for Salas, who added a four-hit performance to his list of pro firsts after going 4-for-6 on Wednesday during Single-A Lake Elsinore’s 8-6 win over Stockton in 11 innings. On July 6, he swatted two homers in a single game for the first time; on July 18, the Padres’ second-ranked prospect delivered his first walk-off hit.

A base hit to right field in the fourth inning. A frozen rope to left in the sixth. A solo homer to right-center in the eighth. A legged-out infield knock in the 11th. Single-A Stockton pitching had no answer for the lefty-swinging backstop on Wednesday.

Salas, who has a knack for hits, further elevated the .330 BABIP he carried into play. Through his first 40 games at the level, MLB’s No. 47 overall prospect has distributed at least a quarter of his knocks to both center and the opposite field.

After some sizable growing pains across 22 June contests (.191/.311/.321), Salas has decimated California League pitching in July en route to a .371/.429/.729 slash line, all while being the youngest hitter on the circuit by more than nine months. In 16 games since the calendar flipped, he has 26 hits -- 11 of which have gone for extra bases.

For most hitters -- of any age -- getting ahead in the count is imperative to success. Such is particularly true for Salas, who has an eye-popping 1.487 OPS with the Storm when the count is in his favor. Entering the night, Salas’ .222 ISO would rank him fourth league-wide, should he reach the requisite plate appearance qualification.

Salas draws rave reviews from those inside the San Diego organization not just for his gifted bat-to-ball skills or intuitive instincts behind the dish, but his off-the-field makeup as well. American 16-year-olds are usually worried about their varsity games or the travel ball circuit, while Salas, who moved to Venezuela from Florida as a child, is getting his first taste of playing under the microscope of pro ball.

“Credit to Ethan for how he has jumped in at Lake Elsinore and played so well,” Padres farm director Ryley Westman told MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell in June. “For a 16-year-old to make their debut at the Single-A level, everything has to really line up. Our international scouting group did a fantastic job identifying the talent of Ethan, but also the makeup.”