Helium is a word used in sports jargon to refer to an athlete on the rise.
The offseason of Severna Park’s Jackson Merrill has had such a meteoric rise that he’ll need to refill his helium tank to finish his ascension to Major League Baseball (MLB).
The San Diego Padres selected Merrill with the 27th pick in the 2021 MLB draft. He signed for a reported $1.8 million to forgo college.
After two years in the Padres minor league system, Merrill has achieved numerous offseason honors including being named the Padres’ top minor league player, being named the 19th best minor league prospect by MLB, and being pegged as the 22nd overall prospect by Baseball America.
The meteoric surge of Merrill’s baseball abilities started when he was a freshman at Severna Park High School. He was an undersized shortstop with great defensive skills and was developing his offensive acumen.
“He was a 5-foot-5-inch talented shortstop and had a phenomenal freshman year,” said Falcons JV baseball coach Dave Ferris. “He grew and really put on muscle during those pandemic years and was 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds by his senior year.”
The pandemic shortened his sophomore and junior years of playing baseball for the Falcons, but that time period had a silver lining for Merrill.
“Because we were staying home for school, I learned to cook nutritious meals and lifted weights to get stronger,” Merrill said.
During Merrill’s senior season, MLB scouts flocked to see the Falcons. That season highlighted the hard work he had put in as he batted .500 with 13 home runs and 39 runs batted in (RBIs).
“The first game of the season, we had about three major league scouts and by the time the playoffs began, we had 60 scouts watching our games,” Merrill said.
The Padres area scout, Danny Sader, had been following Merrill for several years as Merrill played on many regional travel teams during the summer.
Merrill had committed to the University of Kentucky in the fall, but during the spring, he knew he had a chance to be drafted.
“My agent knew I was going to be drafted, and I still have the video of me hearing the announcement on MLB TV and trying to accept that this is really happening,” Merrill said.
His first step after being signed was to report to the Padres affiliate in the Arizona Complex League. Merrill slashed a .280 batting average in his 107 at-bats that year.
“The schedule in Arizona was intense,” Merrill said. “The temperature in mid-July is about 120 degrees and we practiced from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. I learned the importance of hydration that summer.”
This year, Merrill was assigned to the Padres Single A affiliate, Lake Elsinore, in the California League. Merrill was batting .393 before a wrist injury caused him to miss several weeks.
Merrill came back strong after the injury and finished with a .325 batting average with five home runs and 34 RBIs. During the playoffs, Merrill batted .647 to lead his team to the California League championship.
This fall, the Padres wanted to provide Merrill with another challenge and assigned him to the prestigious Arizona Fall League (AFL) where other teams send older players to get ready to compete in the major leagues. At 19, Merrill was one of the youngest players in the AFL and finished with a .261 batting average in 22 games. Merrill was also named to the AFL All-Star Game, and he tallied two hits in that contest. At the end of the season, Merrill was ranked the AFL’s third-best prospect by Baseball America.
“The fall league was an outstanding league, and it was great to compete against the older guys in Double and Triple A,” Merrill said.
Merrill came home to Severna Park for a few weeks this winter, but his fitness regimen continued as he lifted weights, and did sprint work and agility training to prepare for spring training.
Spring training begins in March. Many people within the Padres organization are hoping Merrill is assigned to their Double A affiliate in San Antonio. Merrill would again be one of the youngest players in that league.
Lake Elsinore manager Eric Junge is excited about Merrill’s prospects, as evidenced by a recent comment in Baseball America.
“Merrill has been nothing short of a revelation,” Junge said. “He brings the bat, he brings the glove, he brings energy. He’s got a very bright future.”
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