The San Diego Padres started their 2021 Draft selecting prep infielder Jackson Merrill, a fast-rising senior from the Washington DC area, with the 27th overall pick. In his senior year at Severna Park High School in Maryland, he hit .500 with 13 home runs but what got the left-handed swinging Merrill drafted was how much better some believe he can become.
“He’s a projectable body, wide shoulders, length to his limbs,” said Padres Director of Scouting Mark Conner at Sunday night’s press conference. “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.”
We spoke with Jackson by phone about his transformation into one of the top prospects in the country and starting his pro career.
According to a Washington Post article you grew five inches between your freshman and sophomore year but were able to stay at shortstop. How were you able to keep your athleticism?
Jackson Merrill: It’s funny, I think before the growth spurt I wasn’t as athletic as I became after I grew. It gave me longer legs, which gave me bigger strides and my arms also grew which really helped my leverage. So going into my freshman year I was about 5-foot-5 and at the start of sophomore year, I was 5-foot-10.
How tall are you now?
Jackson Merrill: I am 6-foot-3, 190 to 193.
How much bigger do you want to get?
Jackson Merrill: I can definitely get stronger and hopefully with my frame I can be around 210. My parents aren’t that tall, so I’m not sure about the height.
After your sophomore year you committed to West Point, then as you started to get more notice it was the SEC and the University of Kentucky and now you are a first-round draft pick.
Are you kind of amazed at the speed of everything?
Jackson Merrill: Yeah, definitely and the draft stuff really didn’t start up until the last three months. At first, there were a few scouts, then the number just started to grow.
I really did like West Point but when I started being able to compete against better competition it forced me to reevaluate what I wanted to do. That’s when I first really began to think that playing pro baseball could be something for me to do.
How did you get better during the Pandemic?
Jackson Merrill: When COVID first hit in March and cancelled my junior year it was hard to do much of anything. This past summer I played a lot in Georgia with 5 Star Carolina where I was playing shortstop and third base.
You seem like the classic case of every kid in high school that was really good, but with the refrain, ‘if only he was a little bigger’.
Are you now the big kid with the small kid skills?
Jackson Merrill: [laughs] Yes, I am.
How much contact did you have with the Padres before the draft?
Jackson Merrill: We went to the pre-draft workouts, but San Diego was the first to contact me. The area scout Danny Sader saw me at a few events before the season and was at a lot of my high school games.
They brought me in for some interviews and I tried to be as honest as I could be. On the field, I’m a pretty intense person, but off of the field, I tend to be really chill.
What have you learned about the organization since the draft?
Jackson Merrill: The Padres did a very good job of explaining to me who they were and what they were looking for. So when I got picked I was really excited because I knew who they were and what they were about.
Any worries about where you are going to fit in?
Jackson Merrill: It’s funny a lot of people have said that to me and right now I’m just really excited to play. If I’m on the left side of the infield that’s great, but in the end, I just want to be on the field helping the team win.
One question about you being a right-handed throwing left-handed hitter was about your ability to pull the ball. What do you think of that?
Jackson Merrill: I go the other way because I was pitched outside for most of the year. I like to pull the ball when it’s an inside pitch.
How did you end up being a left-handed hitter?
Jackson Merrill: It’s just the way that I picked up the bat as a kid. Everyone thinks it’s something my dad had me do, but it was always just been the natural way for me to swing.