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Merrill leads way in new-look Padres system

Despite trades, San Diego farm features exciting young talent
Jackson Merrill cemented himself as one of baseball's top prospects by hitting .339 in 2022. (Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
December 9, 2022

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the San Diego Padres.

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the San Diego Padres.

2022 Organization Summary

Triple-A El Paso: 85-65 (Pacific Coast League East Division winner)
Double-A San Antonio: 68-68 (Texas League South Division first-half winner)
High-A Fort Wayne: 50-80
Single-A Lake Elsinore: 77-55 (California League champions)
ACL Padres: 29-25
DSL Padres: 36-23
Overall record: 345-316 (.522 winning percentage, 10th among MLB organizations)

Padres Organization All-Stars

Catcher: Luis Campusano

Between Major League cameos in April and September, Campusano continued to show he has little left to prove at the Triple-A level.

The 24-year-old compiled a slash line of .298/.363/.483 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 81 games, marking the second consecutive season in which he hit better than .290 for the Chihuahuas. Campusano was particularly dangerous after being sent down at the start of May, compiling a .333 average with as many walks as strikeouts (17) in the PCL that month.

“This was another positive year for Campy,” Padres assistant director of player development Mike Daly said. “With high school catchers, it takes time for them to develop. They need games behind the plate. But to see what he did at Triple-A, and when he was called upon to catch some games down the stretch in the bigs for a team that got to the playoffs, we’re thrilled with the steps he took this year.”

Campusano saw time in the Majors in parts of the past three seasons, though he has just 28 total games under his belt. He appears to have the inside track on an Opening Day roster spot next spring after part-time backstop Jorge Alfaro was non-tendered in November.

First base: Carlos Luis

Signed in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic, it took Luis a number of years to find his footing in pro ball between injuries and the canceled season in 2020. The 23-year-old took multiple steps forward with a standout 2022 campaign, setting personal bests by slashing .305/.377/.440 with six home runs and 77 RBIs in 107 games (more than double his previous career high).

The Padres laud Luis for his expert knowledge of the strike zone among other positive traits on the offensive side of the ball while they continue to work on increasing his defensive versatility going forward.

Second base: Eguy Rosario

Rosario has been a different player since returning from the pandemic-affected season, setting a career high with 12 home runs in 2021 and going even further with 22 long balls in the Minors this year. Add on 34 doubles, 81 RBIs -- both pro bests -- and 21 stolen bases and it’s clear Rosario was one of the most impressive players in the system in 2022.

The organization’s No. 5 prospect earned his first Major League callup a day after his 23rd birthday in late August, making seven appearances as a substitute before returning to El Paso.

“Big, big credit to him,” Daly said. “He limited his chase and did a really good job of controlling the strike zone which allowed him to shine offensively. He brings a lot of versatility, to be able to play three infield positions and play them well. He’s a true two-way player in our mind.”

Third base: Connor Hollis

Hollis wasted no time finding a new home after Tampa Bay released him shortly before the start of the Minor League season, latching on with San Diego on the same day he became a free agent.

In his first season with his second organization, all Hollis did was hit, leading the Padres system and tying for fifth in all of the Minors with 160 base knocks in 127 games between San Antonio and El Paso. The 28-year-old also notched a career-best 44 extra-base hits, 63 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

Shortstop: Jackson Merrill

Merrill’s stock was already soaring as the 2022 season reached its halfway point, but a trade deadline blockbuster that sent a prospect haul to the Nationals for Juan Soto established the young shortstop as the brightest gem in the San Diego system.

Despite missing all of May and most of June rehabbing a wrist injury, Merrill excelled throughout the year, finishing with a .339/.395/.511 line in 55 games between Lake Elsinore and the Arizona Complex League. He was unstoppable down the stretch for the Storm, batting .361 with 17 extra-base hits over his last 33 games before going 11-17 (.647) in the postseason.

“I’m not sure there’s enough we can say about him,” Daly said. “To quote legendary scout Don Welke, ‘You have to keep challenging the gifted.’ That’s what we have to continue to do with Jackson, in all facets -- offensively, defensively, leadership. He’s earned it.”

Merrill won’t turn 20 until after Opening Day in 2023, setting him up to be one of the youngest players in High-A and eventually Double-A, just two years after being selected 27th overall in the 2021 Draft.

Outfield: Esteury Ruiz

Originally acquired from the Royals in 2017, Ruiz won MVP honors in the Arizona League that summer but had trouble replicating that success in full-season ball after that. He flipped this year, dominating Double-A and continuing to hit at Triple-A before being moved to the Brewers in the deadline deal for Josh Hader.

Ruiz’s numbers before the trade were nothing short of remarkable, as he hit .333/.467/.560 -- all bests among Padres Minor Leaguers -- in 77 games. The most eye-popping stat, however, was his stolen-base total: 60 with just nine failed attempts. Ruiz added 25 more with Triple-A Nashville after the trade to lead professional baseball with 85 total thefts.

Robert Hassell III

Exactly one month after shortstop C.J. Abrams graduated from the Padres’ Top 30 list and Hassell assumed the top spot, both players were part of the package that went to the Nationals for Soto.

Hassell, the eighth overall pick in 2020, made his short time in the San Diego organization count, hitting .303 between two levels in 2021 and posting an .846 OPS in 75 games with Fort Wayne before the trade this summer. His power-speed combo was on full display, as he hit 10 home runs and stole 20 bases for the TinCaps. Hassell made it up to Double-A Harrisburg in the Nationals system and played two games in the Arizona Fall League before suffering a broken hamate bone.

James Wood

Wood made it a trifecta of young outfielders that left the organization in trades, with the powerful left-handed bat also headlining the return for Soto.

Few prospects did more to raise their profile in 2022 than Wood, who batted .337/.453/.601 in 50 games for Lake Elsinore before the deal. The 2021 second-round pick not only showed impressive power, racking up 30 extra-base hits, but equally notable plate discipline, striking out in just 18 percent of his plate appearances and walking in 16 percent. Wood, who turned 20 in September, remained at the Single-A level in the Nationals system, recording an .829 OPS in 21 games for Fredericksburg.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Victor Lizarraga

At just 18 years old, the Padres challenged their No. 7 prospect with an assignment to Lake Elsinore and he not only survived, but thrived. Lizarraga led the Storm rotation with a 3.43 ERA (well below the Cal League average of 5.13) in 94 1/3 innings as the youngest pitcher in the Minors to reach the 90-inning plateau.

“We feel he’s in a great position and built a solid foundation this year,” Daly said. “He’s got multiple pitches -- curveball, changeup, he’s worked a little bit on a slider -- that are real weapons. He has really good command, really good awareness on the mound and is a 'plus' competitor. Very good year for him to go from start to finish.”

Lizarraga, the cream of an impressive crop of Padres prospects signed out of Mexico, ended the regular season with three straight starts of at least six strikeouts, the first time he had done that all year. He continued his dominance in the postseason, striking out a season-high nine in the league semifinals and working 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball in the title clincher.

Left-handed starting pitcher: Noel Vela

Drafted in the 28th round in 2017, Vela spent his first three seasons as a pro maturing in the Arizona League. He’s been a much more complete pitcher since returning from the pandemic year, compiling a 3.90 ERA in 2021 and reaching Double-A this past summer.

Vela turned in a 4.35 ERA in 29 outings between Fort Wayne and San Antonio, though he posted a 4.13 mark in his 24 starts. San Diego’s No. 11 prospect fanned 10.3 batters per nine innings, putting him in double digits in all five of his professional seasons, and delivered a pair of 10-strikeout shutout outings on May 5 and July 24.

Relief pitcher: Alan Mundo

Mundo, another native of Mexico, took major strides forward in 2022. The 22-year-old lowered his ERA from 6.86 in 2021 to 2.29 this summer -- best among Padres Minor Leaguers who threw at least 50 innings -- and slashed his walk rate from 8.2 per nine to 3.4. His stuff remained nasty, as he whiffed over 13 per nine between Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne.

Mundo produced a streak of 14 consecutive scoreless appearances that spanned nearly two months and included the final six outs of the first no-hitter in Storm history.

“He’s a guy with a slow heartbeat and a real presence.” Daly said. “The slider -- kind of a cutter -- is his best pitch but he’s got plenty on the fastball. He took a big step this year, being an important part of Lake Elsinore’s success and then pitching his way to High-A. I think it was a mixture of experience, comfort level and trusting his stuff and we’re very excited about it.”

Jacob Resnick is a contributor for