Padres general manager A.J. Preller has a philosophy: an organization can never have enough shortstops.
That cleared the way for the Padres to draft popup prospect Jackson Merrill out of Severna Park (Md.) High with the 27th overall pick.
“You win championships by being strong up the middle,” Preller said. “. . . I think ultimately those are the best athletes. They can handle the baseball, they can throw the baseball, and Jackson fits that mold for sure.”
The 6-foot-3 Merrill is the third high school shortstop that Preller’s staff has drafted in the first round, following Hudson Potts as the 24th overall pick in 2016 and CJ Abrams as the sixth overall pick in 2019.
Merrill jumped up the Padres’ board by packing on 35 pounds of muscle after beginning to wow scouts last summer. It was at that point that Merrill shifted his college commitment from West Point to Kentucky as it became clear that baseball would indeed be in his future.
“Just eating and lifting every day, hitting every day, fielding every day,” Merrill said, “so that when it got to the high school season, I was ready to compete, ready to show that I was ready to play at the next level.
“I think that developing myself, developing my tools was really helpful over the last year.”
Merrill’s body transformation helped the lefthanded hitter swat 13 home runs while batting .500 with 10 stolen bases.
With improved footwork, Merrill has enough arm and soft enough hands to remain at shortstop, though third base and second base are easy fallback options. His plus raw power, however, is what drew scouts to Maryland.
The Padres liked Merrill’s hitting approach, swing decisions and ability to drive the ball.
Merrill signed for $1.8 million, which was well below the $2.57 million slot value at No. 27.
“There were simple things like how he controlled the bat, how he controlled the moment,” Padres scouting director Mark Conner said of Merrill’s appeal. “He has a very good low pulse, but performance-wise (every scout) who came back saw something good.”
— Kevin Merrill’s under-slot deal, as well as Golden Spikes Award winner Kevin Kopps’ $300,000 under-slot deal as the Padres’ third-round pick, helped the Padres sign second-round high schooler James Wood. Wood is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound outfielder who signed for $2.6 million, luring him away from his commitment to Mississippi State.
“We feel like he was one of the bigger upside plays in the whole draft,” Preller said, “and I think our job is to try to help him realize his ability.”
— Righthander Matt Waldron, now throwing a low-80s knuckleball upwards of 80% of the time, struck out seven and allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in his debut with Double-A San Antonio. He recorded a 3.24 ERA, 72 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP in 13 starts for high High-A Fort Wayne.