Jackson Merrill emerging for Padres at just 20 years old

Apr 1, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres center fielder Jackson Merrill (3) celebrates in the dugout after hitting a home run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the third inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

At 20 years young, many are still figuring out what to do with their lives. Fernando Tatis Jr. burst into the big leagues five years ago at 20 and emerged as one of the most electric players in baseball. The San Diego Padres may have another young phenom on their hands, once again a twenty-year-old, in Jackson Merrill.

When a top prospect makes his debut, it is often must-see television for baseball fans. Just under a month ago, Merrill took a big league field for the first time halfway across the globe in Seoul, South Korea. This is less than three years after being drafted out of high school after only 114 games above low-A. All while at a position he had never played prior to spring training, for a team in desperate need of players to step up. Especially following an utterly disappointing 2023 that saw multiple talented players leave in the offseason. Merrill has stepped up – and danced – for San Diego.

Touted for his bat-to-ball skills, Merrill is showcasing his skills with the stick. He walks up to the plate at Petco Park to “Like That” by Future, potentially foreshadowing his brightness to those in the Gaslamp.

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If his first 67 plate appearances are any indication, Merrill will be a consistent on-base threat in the NL West. A .433 OBP paired with 7 RBI towards bottom of the order catch the eyes of baseball fans across America. He’s flipping the lineup over for star hitters Xander Bogaerts and Tatis Jr. They both drove him in with home runs when the Padres erased an eight-run deficit.

Flashing the leather is his thing, too, even with the bigger mitt that comes with roaming the green of center field. Much like San Diego’s right fielder last year, Merrill made the transition further from home plate this offseason. He began Cactus League play in left field. Merrill was moved to centerfield once he showed a knack for it. It helped that Profar arrived to man left field.

Friday night in Dodger Stadium, he flagged down a liner in the gap to rob Shohei Ohtani with a dive on the warning track. Merrill later notched the game-winning single in the eleventh inning, reaching base for the third time that night. He’s done that in three of the last four games, passing the eye test with flying colors.

Analytics back up what you’re seeing, too, with both the glove and bat. His xBA(expected batting average) ranks in the 91st percentile while hard-hit percentage slots in the 79th. He is also gaining two Outs Above Average in 19 games ranks him in the top 10 percent of all fielders.

There is still a long way to go for Merrill. Analysts keep repeating that MLB will find a hole in his swing, and he’ll need to make the adjustment. Confidence and maturity that’s already been displayed will be necessary to build on a strong start to his promising career. A foundation has been laid for Merrill to boast a strong rookie campaign and be a force for the Padres.

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