Well before he took over Padres baseball operations, A.J. Preller was a scout who looked to build farm systems from the middle out.
Pitchers, catchers, shortstops and center fielders.
In fact, before drafting Nathan Martorella in the fifth round in 2022, the earliest the Preller Padres had selected a first baseman was the 15th round in 2015, and San Diego had gone three straight years without drafting one at all.
Then again, sometimes the position doesn’t matter all that much.
“Hitters play,” Padres assistant farm director Mike Daly said. “If you can hit, they can find a place for you to play, and Nathan has a track record of doing that.”
The 22-year-old Martorella tied a career high with five RBIs on May 21 for High-A Fort Wayne. He also hit his seventh homer of the season, giving him 10 since the Padres drafted him from California with the hope that the 6-foot-1, 224-pound, lefthanded hitter would add much needed power to the Padres’ system.
Martorella certainly had shown he was on the right track before the Padres signed him for $325,000 last summer.
He hit 11 of his 19 collegiate homers his junior year, when he had more walks (34) than strikeouts (29) while hitting .333/.424/.553. As a pro, Martorella had walked 40 times against 47 strikeouts while hitting .293/.398/.509 in his first 66 games.
In college, Martorella played first base exclusively. With the Padres, he has rotated regularly to left field, where his baseball IQ has allowed him to expand his range.
But his bat is his clear carrying tool—specifically his raw power potential, balance and ability to manipulate the barrel. Martorella’s offseason work at a local junior college put him in a good spot this spring to exceed initial plans for him to start the year back at Low-A.
“When you have a plus tool, especially if it’s the bat, that allows you to play, no matter what your position is,” Daly said. “He’s come in from Day One and hit.”
— Catcher Brandon Valenzuela, 22, is enjoying a rebound season, hitting .286/.403/.518 in 18 games to start his return to High-A Fort Wayne. His stock as a prospect had taken a dip after hitting .209/.334/.348 with 10 home runs last year in the Midwest League.
— Two different bouts with flu-like symptoms have derailed shortstop Jackson Merrill’s start to the season at High-A Fort Wayne. The Padres’ top prospect hit .248/.287/.407 with three homers, 12 RBIs and 17 strikeouts through 29 games.