Merrill doubles thrice; Storm close in on league title

September 19th, 2022

Jackson Merrill wants the ring, make no mistake about it.

The top-ranked Padres prospect was the driving force behind an unrelenting Single-A Lake Elsinore offense on Sunday, going 4-for-5 with three doubles and four RBIs in the Storm’s 13-2 win over Fresno in Game 1 of the best-of-3 California League Finals.

Lake Elsinore opened the series after sweeping Inland Empire in two games in the league semifinals.

Merrill got off to a quick start in the championship opener, skying a 1-1 pitch from Grizzlies starter Victor Juarez in the bottom of the first up and over the wall in left-center for a ground-rule double. Though Merrill was stranded and Fresno scored first, it was all Lake Elsinore from that point forward.

The Storm scored all 13 of their runs with crooked numbers in the fourth through seventh innings. With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, Merrill once again found the left-center field gap and cleared the bases with his second double of the afternoon, blowing a close game wide open.

It was more of the same in the seventh. Staying on the gas pedal, Merrill connected on another deep drive to left-center and brought home Lake Elsinore’s 11th run. All of a sudden, the team was one win away from the league title, potentially its fourth overall and first since 2011.

After playing 13 games in April with the Storm to begin his first full professional season, the 2021 27th overall pick hit the injured list with a wrist injury and didn’t return to the level until July 31. Among players who eclipsed 200 plate appearances in the California League this year, Merrill’s .325 average ranked sixth. Arguably the best player in the league was his teammate, James Wood, who was sent to the Nationals and the Trade Deadline in the massive Juan Soto deal.

The Padres sent away a slew of their top prospects to Washington but held onto Merrill, a 19-year-old with at least average tools across the board. He ranks 87th on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.

And big players step up in big spots. In the two semifinal games against the 66ers, Merrill hit safely five times in eight at-bats and drove in three runs, including a key insurance RBI in the eighth inning of Game 2.

The Storm and Grizzlies are slated to play the second game of the championship round on Tuesday as the series shifts to Fresno (live on MiLB.TV). Lake Elsinore claims the crown with a win, with a potential decisive Game 3 looming on Wednesday.