Sweet 16: Padres' Salas impresses in pro debut

May 31st, 2023

Ethan Salas doesn't even have a learner's permit yet, but the 16-year-old phenom already has a license to hit.

The Padres’ No. 3 prospect skipped over the Rookie-level Complex League entirely and was assigned to Single-A to begin his professional career. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Salas scored the go-ahead run and went 2-for-3 with a double, a single and a walk in Lake Elsinore’s 3-1 win.

“I was just really happy,” Salas said of finally making his pro debut. “I wasn’t nervous. I’ve been on bigger stages -- Spring Training, my winter ball debut, so I went into tonight pretty relaxed. Just went about it like it was any other game.”

While other kids his age are going through the turmoil of high school, Salas has already built up an impressive baseball resume. The backstop was the top international prospect of the 2023 class, and he’s MLB’s No. 86 overall prospect and the ninth-ranked catching prospect. Scouts say he has the makings of a five-tool player, and he’s already appeared in the Cactus League and worked with big league pitchers.

His journey to the bigs officially started on Tuesday. Batting second as the designated hitter, the left-handed slugger showed off his plate skills early. He stayed patient, taking the first three pitches of the at-bat, before fouling off three straight offerings and taking another ball to work a 3-2 count. He sliced the eighth pitch the other way for an opposite-field double off Visalia righty Jacob Steinmetz, the D-backs’ third-round pick in last year’s Draft.

“That first hit, just to get it out of the way felt really nice,” Salas said. “Then going in to my second hit, I was like, ‘Oh, this is easy.’ Just to play my game, play the game I know how to.”

It’s not really that easy, but Salas made it look like it. In his next trip to the plate in the fourth, the teenager laced a single to right off Steinmetz, immediately displaying his ability to hit to all fields. He struck out looking with the bases loaded in the fifth, but he was soon about to make up for it.

Leading off the eighth with the game still knotted at 1, Salas fell behind in the count 0-2 but ended up working a walk against southpaw Armando Vasquez, which soon proved invaluable. First baseman Griffin Doersching cranked a two-out, two-run homer, making Salas the go-ahead run to secure the victory.

“I’m really happy about the win,” Salas said. “The way I see baseball -- the way I see any competition -- is that I have to do whatever it takes to win. I didn’t want this to be all about me and my debut, I just wanted to go out there and win a game.”

Salas, who turns 17 on June 1, will become just the third player since 2018 to play in Single-A in their age-17 seasons, joining fellow San Diego prospect Samuel Zavala and Angels outfielder Nelson Rada -- though both played Rookie ball before making the jump to the full-time circuit.

The phenom already displays a lot of confidence in himself, but what else does Salas want Padres fans to know about him?

“I’m a fun, humble, just exciting guy to be around,” Salas said. “I just go out there and play my game as hard as I can and don’t really pay attention to anything else. I mean, this is my life. This is what I do 24/7, and every time I’m out there I just play like it’s my last. I’m just here to play, have fun and win a ballgame.”