Picking at the back of the first round for the first time in the AJ Preller era, the San Diego Padres stuck with several recent trends when they selected Severna Park, Maryland, prepster Jackson Merrill with the 27th overall selection in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Merrill is the fifth straight high school player the Padres have drafted with their first pick, and another in a recent trend of early selections who hadn’t been showcase stars the summer before his selection.
While his name hasn’t been on many public draft boards, the Padres have had plenty of time to watch him over the last 12 months. First identified by area scout Danny Sader, last summer, Merrill has performed in front of a variety of the organization’s scouting brain trust.
“Our guys did some work early in the preseason when he was practicing to get around him,” said Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Conner. “From game one, we started flooding the looks and most of our staff got a chance to get in there even though it was a short year.”
The left-handed hitter — right-handed fielders who bat from the opposite side are another favorite profile among Padres talent evaluators — added almost 35 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame through his senior year. That led to a power spike to go with already solid bat-to-ball skills.
“Media wise, these guys are pop-up guys, but our guys have seen these guys a lot and been around them,” said Conner, who has also called the likes of Luis Campusano, Joshua Mears, Hudson Head earlier than industry consensus in recent years. “We feel like they’re well-known inside our organization. We watch the progression these guys make.”
A year ago, Merrill was looking at a trajectory that would take him to West Point and then on to a commission in the U.S. Army. However, after playing in some regional events over the summer, he reconsidered.
“Going into fall, I sort of realized that baseball’s exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Merrill said on a media call Sunday night. “I’m very excited to get into pro ball and start to get out there and work really hard.”
Merrill, advised by KHG Sports Management, turned 18 in April and still has room to grow.
“He’s a projectable body, wide shoulders, length to his limbs,” said Conner. “For a lot of the ingredients we look for, we thought he stacked up well with the players that were on the scene all year.”
The Padres will have 10 picks on day two of the draft, which gets underway at 10:00 San Diego time Monday. In addition to their second-round pick, they will select 71st overall in the Compensation-B round before the third round. Whatever direction they go, don’t expect public rankings to drive their decision-making.
“For us, it’s not really about ‘on the scene’ or ‘off the scene,’” said General Manager AJ Preller. “We have a lot of information and history and it’s more about the guys we feel are plus players, plus performers and have real make-up. Those are the guys we try to zero in on.”
San Diego hadn’t picked outside the top 10 since 2015, when they surrendered their first-round pick to sign James Shields as a free agent under the terms of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. That year, they drafted righties Austin Smith and Jacob Nix at the top of their class.