An injury-interrupted season has done nothing to diminish the talent and performance of Jackson Merrill. He added a pair of personal milestones on Wednesday to what is shaping up to be a breakout year.
Merrill has hit safely in 16 of 17 games with four home runs and 21 RBIs in that stretch.
The 19-year-old doesn't believe there is any secret ingredient to his success.
"A lot of hard work," Merrill said. "Working before the games and trying to figure things out that I can take into my at-bats. Tonight was a good night."
He kicked off his evening with a two-run jack to right-center field, highlighting the Storm's five-run opening frame. He added a single in his next at-bat and appeared to break the game open with a three-run clout in the fifth, his sixth of the season.
The three hits were one shy of Merrill's career high, which he established against the Rawhide on April 14. It continued a pattern for the Baltimore native, whose eyes -- and bat -- light up when he faces Visalia. After going 1-for-8 in his first two games against his club's California League rival, Merrill has gone 19-for-47 (.404) with 11 RBIs in 10 games, collecting three or more hits five times.
In a season full of impressive numbers, Merrill is most proud of one particular development with his game.
"My power has really come along well," he said. "Last year [in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League], a lot of my hits were grounders finding holes with the occasional line drive. I hit the cages and the fields pretty heavily in the offseason to try and tap into that power more. And then, to effectively use it."
More impressive, perhaps, is the shortstop's ability to not miss a beat despite two lengthy stints on the injured list. After a scorching April (.393/.452/.518), a wrist injury kept Merrill out of action from April 24-June 21. He returned on a rehab assignment in the ACL for four games before missing an additional three weeks with lingering soreness.
"It [stunk]. It wasn't fun to be hurt," Merrill said. "I didn't think I'd be down in Arizona rehabbing as long as I was, but I think I handled it pretty well. It was a real grind, particularly from a mental aspect. I just concentrated on regaining my strength and focusing on getting back to playing regularly."
Merrill rejoined Lake Elsinore on July 31 with an 0-for-5 showing but has found his groove since. After Wednesday's offensive eruption, the 2021 first-round Draft pick is hitting .317 with an .882 OPS, four homers and 23 RBIs in August. Overall, he's improved his slash line to .333/.386/.500 with 15 extra-base hits and 31 RBIs in 36 games for the Storm.
His goal for the season's final stretch?
"Win the Cal League," Merrill said. "That's what I'm looking to do. I'm not looking at finishing with certain statistics or anything. I just want to win with this team this year and then wherever I am next year and the year after that. It's all about winning."