In many ways, Jackson Merrill is something of a last man standing in what was once a loaded Padres’ farm system.
San Diego managed to hold on to MLB Pipeline’s No. 88 overall prospect after a very busy, and potentially franchise-altering, Trade Deadline.
Merrill, a Baltimore native, was the No. 27 overall selection in last year’s Draft from an area that doesn’t often produce first rounders. A 6-foot-3, 195-pound shortstop with a lefty swing, Merrill flashes excellent tools across the board, but he hasn’t seen much Minor League action after suffering a left wrist fracture at the end of April.
The 19-year-old also happened to be enjoying an incredible first month of the season before getting hurt. He was batting .393 with a .970 OPS over 13 games for Single-A Lake Elsinore but the injury shut him down until the end of June. After a rehab stint in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League, Merrill was activated a month later and did not take the field until two days before the trade deadline.
Since his return to the Storm, Merrill has remained consistent at the plate. He’s batting .315/.361/.505 with 11 extra-base hits, including four homers, and 24 RBIs in 24 games.
In the latest Prospect Q&A, Merrill talks about the work he put in while on the injured list and his game’s transformation after rehab. He also talks about his strange experience at this year’s Trade Deadline and his memories of Draft night.
MiLB.com: You've mentioned before that you experienced a bit of culture shock going to Arizona right away after the Draft. Are things a little more comfortable now?
Jackson Merrill: It's been a weird, weird ride. After the Draft, I went out, obviously, played a season and didn't really suffer through any injuries or anything. I got to the season this year, was out in Cali for like two weeks and then the fractured wrist kind of threw everything off. So going back to Arizona for three months really was kind of hard. Not like physically at all. But mentally it was like, 'Damn, I've been grinding this long. And now I have to go rehab like more to get back to where I was.' But honestly, I got through rehab pretty well. And I think I came back stronger than when I left.
MiLB.com: What was that rehab like?
Merrill: I really just did everything I could that didn't involve my wrist. Lifting was modified -- no wrist movements for I think it was like a month, I really wasn't doing much. Fielding was kind of just doing footwork as much as I could. And then obviously hitting, I couldn't really do anything, because you need both hands and both wrists for that. But I'd say I managed it pretty well. Obviously, my coaches down there helped me out a lot with everything I needed to do. They helped me modify a lot of my exercises and routines that I needed to do.
MiLB.com: Is there anything you picked up in rehab that has become a part of your daily routine?
Merrill: Not too much, I'd say maybe just a little more like mobility and activation before my day starts. When I got hurt, I kind of went back – I really was focusing on mobility a lot at the beginning because that was one of the main things I could do without hurting my wrist. And honestly, I think that has played a bigger part of my game than I thought. My hips are a lot looser now. I feel like I play a lot looser with my mobility and all that stuff before games.
MiLB.com: You said you felt like you came back stronger. What's an indicator within your game that sort of makes you feel like that?
Merrill: I mean, my arm, for one, just felt really good coming back. It felt like I had a lot of life. Even my swing, I feel like when I barrel a ball, it's been a lot harder than what it was before. Barrel the ball like, beginning of the season, I'd say it wasn't too hard. I was still hitting it pretty hard. But I feel like now you can actually tell the difference between then and now.
MiLB.com: The numbers show that you're using the opposite field a lot this season. Is that something that's always sort of been part of your profile?
Merrill: It's always been a part of my game to just use the whole field and go where the pitch is thrown if it's in my zone where I want it. But I kind of just drive it like – I probably just sit left center or right center. But yeah, I like to use the whole field rather than just one part. It's pretty normal for me to do. I always have used the opposite field pretty well.
MiLB.com: You were in a bit of a strange position about a month ago at the Trade Deadline. You end up staying put, but a lot of guys around you were moved in some bigger trades. What was it like sort of living through that? And then also to have teammates and maybe friends traded away?
Merrill: Obviously, we knew. Well James [Wood] and I had been texting because I was still in Arizona. And I like just got back two days before that happened. But we knew. We were texting each other. We were saying how that happens, like one of us or both was probably going to go. There's no doubt of it. They're not going to take the deal without one or the other of us. So I mean, it was pretty obvious it was coming.
When it happened, though, we're actually on a bus to Visalia. I saw it and kind of the same thing because just wanted to let him be and let everything play out. But it was pretty tough. I can't lie like the next week not having him there when I'm playing was kind of difficult, but I have to also understand the business like this stuff's gonna happen. It could have happened to me. It could have been me instead of him getting traded. But also like losing Hassell and CJ, and honestly, even Susana was a young pitcher in ACL. I got to know him a little bit while I was down there. I
t's always tough losing good teammates that you like playing with and that you build relationships with. But it is a business and guys have to remember that.
MiLB.com: It's been a little more than a year in the Minors for you. I'm sure you have some Draft memories that are still pretty fresh in your mind.
Merrill: It was pretty cool. I really didn't like mind where I was gonna get drafted. I really just I wanted to get drafted. I wanted to get into pro ball. Coming from Maryland is cool. It's not a lot of great talent out there. But honestly, it didn't really matter to me. I just really wanted to get out here and just start proving myself. I didn't want to wait. But it was probably one of the coolest days of my life.
MiLB.com: What was that night like?
Merrill: Yeah, I was actually at my brother's house. My family and I were there. When I saw it, I didn't really do anything. I kind of just sat on the couch and just stared at the TV. I mean, obviously I was excited. But you don't know what to say in that moment. I hugged my parents, and it was really all I did. I didn't like get up and jump around or anything. I just stared at the TV and was excited.
MiLB.com: Reports on you had a traditional note for shortstops your size, where you'll inevitably outgrow the position. What do you have to do as a player your size to make sure you stick at short?
Merrill: I think, really, just keeping my footwork pretty clean and obviously my speed too. My lateral movements have to be quick. But I really don't see much of a problem. I haven't played a different position yet. I've played short every game that I've played. Honestly, I think it's just going to take a lot of effort to keep my speed and my lateral movements, my first steps and all that pretty clean so that I don't get moved to third, second or first, honestly.
MiLB.com: What is it you want to see from yourself on the field in the last stretch of the season?
Merrill: Keep my health and keep my mentality right. I really don't want to focus on anything physically in the field, because I'll just start thinking too much I really just honestly want to win. Going towards the end of the season here, I just want to win. That's my mentality. I don't really have anything -- for myself, obviously I had goals beginning of season. But I can't really base them off it now, I missed more than half of [the season]. So honestly, I think towards the end, it's just helping my team win and staying locked in and helping us all to succeed.
MiLB.com: How do you stay locked in?
Merrill: Really, just even if there's like a bad game where I strike out a couple of times or I'm not really hitting the ball well or I'm lining out and it's not really going my way, really I just have to have the mentality of we play tomorrow, we can win tomorrow. Keep everyone else up, too. Like, someone else is having a bad game, go up to them and say, 'This is not the last game you're gonna play in your life. Let's go. Get back in it.'
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.