June 25, 2024

After four games into spring training, the Padres have witnessed several promising performances from players whose roles for the upcoming season were uncertain.

In contrast to the previous year, much of the attention surrounding the Padres this spring revolves around positional battles as they field what seems like an incomplete roster. Consequently, spring training presents an opportunity to determine several roles within the starting lineup and rotation.

With this context in mind, let’s delve into three emerging or youthful Padres who have stood out the most thus far and may have gained an advantage in these battles.

Jackson Merrill, despite being ranked as the No. 4 shortstop prospect on MLB.com, has shown a clear shift in position, with the San Diego Padres intending to transition him to left field. In two games, Merrill has already logged 10 innings at this new position, showcasing notable athleticism, particularly highlighted by a diving catch while sprinting to his right to snag a line drive.

His hitting prowess, a standout aspect of his game, has also been evident during spring training. In a recent game against the Chicago Cubs, Merrill went two for two with a double, two RBIs, and a run scored.

Even with the Padres’ acquisition of Jurickson Profar, the team currently only has two other outfielders on the 40-man roster, namely Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jose Azocar. Merrill’s impressive performances make a compelling case for him to secure the fourth outfielder spot and potentially even earn the starting role on Opening Day.

While Robert Suarez is poised to assume the role of closer for the Padres at the start of the season, left-hander Yuki Matsui is making a compelling case to be considered for the position as well.

Despite the Padres suffering a 14-1 defeat in their Cactus League opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Matsui emerged as a standout performer. Entering the game in the third inning with the team already trailing 8-0, Matsui delivered an impressive performance. Despite only pitching for a single inning, he struck out all three batters he faced, with the first two strikeouts coming via swings and the third on a foul tip.

Matsui boasts significant experience as a closer, having amassed 236 saves over his 10-year career in the NPB (according to Baseball Reference). Despite his stature, standing at just 5’8″ and 165 lbs, Matsui has demonstrated an ability to effectively retire batters early in spring training, showcasing his potential impact on the mound.

Jairo Iriarte, much like Merrill, appears to be on the verge of securing a place on the Opening Day roster for the Padres. Making his Cactus League debut on Saturday, Iriarte delivered an impressive performance.

In his one inning of work, Iriarte faced three batters and efficiently retired all of them. Notably, every pitch he threw was registered as a strike, as reported by MLB.com.

Currently, Iriarte finds himself potentially contending for the fifth starting pitcher role in the Padres’ rotation. While FanGraphs currently predicts Randy Vasquez for the spot, Iriarte, with just 41 days of service time, could emerge as a strong contender if he maintains his impressive form throughout spring training. Even if he doesn’t secure a starting role, his performance suggests he could be a valuable addition to the Padres’ bullpen, providing depth and versatility.

Three young Padres who've impressed in spring training so far

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