[Baltimore Sun] Severna Park native Jackson Merrill has impressed Padres ‘from the very beginning’

Read Time:5 Minute, 29 Second

PHILADELPHIA — Jackson Merrill is only three months into his big league career, and his teammates are already seeing All-Star potential.

“He’s gonna be great. The way he goes about his business, the way he prepares himself, it tells you he wants to grow,” San Diego Padres veteran outfielder David Peralta said. “He wants to be the best. That’s what he’s showing right now. I’m really impressed.”

Padres manager Mike Shildt doubled down, calling the Severna Park native and former Falcons star a gamer, a winner, a baller and “all the great adjectives that you want to throw on guys that typically it takes a while to figure out. This guy has already gotten those monikers, rightfully, from the very beginning.”

Nothing screams star power quite like blasting an 0-1 sinker 401 feet over the right field wall against the National League Cy Young Award favorite, Ranger Suárez. It happened during Merrill’s first at-bat of Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Like any visiting star, his solo shot — the eighth homer of his rookie season — was met by a chorus of boos from the home crowd. He later singled and was hit by a pitch.

“He’s showing up regardless of circumstance and just looking to contribute,” Shildt said. “His skill set is really special.”

Clubhouse praise for Merrill’s nascent career strikes a different tenor considering the unique, whirlwind nature of his baseball journey.

Merrill was drafted No. 27 overall by the Padres in 2021. He was a late bloomer in high school who, upon hearing his name called from his brother’s house in Maryland surrounded by extended family, figured to offer long-term infield depth up the middle on a team led by superstars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.

The first inkling of Merrill’ pro career came in 31 games of rookie ball. He opened the 2022 season in Single-A with the Lake Elsinore Storm, then split last summer between High-A Fort Wayne and Double-A San Antonio, where he recorded 129 hits in 114 games with 15 home runs.

Then, seemingly all at once, his career took its most impactful turn.

Padres center fielder Jackson Merrill, right, celebrates his home run against the Athletics with right fielder David Peralta at Petco Park on June 12 in San Diego. (Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Merrill was moved to the outfield during spring training, in part, to fill a positional need on the heels of Juan Soto and Trent Grisham being traded to the New York Yankees. Merrill then leapfrogged Triple-A and broke camp in March, earning a spot on the Padres’ opening day roster at 20 years old before making his debut 6,000 miles away in Seoul, South Korea.

“Everything happened really fast,” Merrill said, having turned 21 in April. “It was definitely weird. Weird way to start in the pros but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I appreciate every moment of it.”

Weird is certainly a fair descriptor. Uncommon could fit too.

Merrill became only the fourth opening day starter in center field before turning legal drinking age, joining a star-studded list of Andruw Jones (Atlanta), Ken Griffey Jr. (Seattle) and Don Hahn (Montreal). The Padres rookie doesn’t read into joining that list at all.

“They had great careers,” he said. “Great players and great people. But I’m making my own career.”

Last week, Merrill became the youngest Padre with a walk-off home run, a solo shot against Oakland Athletics rookie phenom Mason Miller that gave San Diego its first sweep of the season. In that same game, with his fifth-inning homer, the kid from central Maryland became the youngest player in MLB history two record two home runs in a single game, one of which being a walk off.

Merrill’s adjustment to major league pitching has been fairly smooth, having slashed .279/.317/.417 — good for a .734 OPS — with 13 walks and 42 strikeouts in 74 games. His Statcast spray chart touches every corner of the field.

His plate production has earned him the nickname “Jackson Barrel.”

“I picked it up really fast, but it’s definitely still new,” Merrill said. “The more reps, that’s how you get better. So just gotta keep playing to get better. You gotta be way more selective up here. They’re not gonna miss their spots too much so when they do, you gotta attack. When it’s not your pitch you gotta lay off. Still learning to do that.”

Related Articles

Sports |


Baltimore Sun 2024 All-Metro softball: Crofton pitcher-outfielder Lynsie Herman named Player of the Year

Sports |


While the Yankees’ rotation gets stronger, the Orioles’ is showing cracks | ANALYSIS

Sports |


U.S. swimming trials: Katie Ledecky dominates; Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel settle for relay spots

Sports |


Cedric Mullins’ clutch 10th inning lifts Orioles over Yankees, 7-6, after blown lead: ‘That’s a big win’

Sports |


Charlie Woods, the 15-year-old son of Tiger Woods, qualifies for the US Junior Amateur next month

As for his positional transition from infield to outfield, Merrill seeks guidance when he needs it but appreciates the breathing room to problem solve on his own. He played 200 minor league games, five of which were in left field, the rest from his natural position at shortstop.

Padres brass tested him in the outfield in late 2022 and introduced him to the position full-time this offseason. Then one day, Merrill said, they abruptly told him he was playing center. So he did. It’s an adjustment that Merrill downplays matter-of-factly, heeding advice to “be aggressive. Be athletic. Be loose.”

“The guy is a freak athlete,” said Tatis Jr., a 2021 All-Star shortstop who became a Gold Glove outfielder. “He’s a natural baseball player. You can have guys like that anywhere on the field. So, I knew it was gonna happen since the beginning.”

Merrill’s play nearly halfway through his rookie season, even as one of the youngest players in baseball, puts him on course to meet his teammates’ lofty projections.

“It makes you think,” Peralta said. “He’s been in the league for like a month, but [it seems] like a long time. It’s just how mature he is. He’s gonna keep learning. He wants to get better every day. That’s what you’re looking for and that’s what I like about him.”

Read More 

About Post Author

Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %