Unprecedented: Padres promote 17-year-old prospect to AA, putting him 2 steps from the Majors

Catcher is the youngest player in the Texas League by a mile

During Saturday's doubleheader loss to the Diamondbacks at Petco Park, Padres General Manager AJ Preller was in a suite with a baseball game on the TV. It's commonplace for team brass to have the broadcast on and listen to the local announcers. But, this screen was not flickering with commentary from Don and Mud.

It was beaming in from Fort Wayne, IN, via Preller was watching the TinCaps, San Diego's High-A affiliate, play the Dayton Dragons and keeping an eye on catcher Ethan Salas. The 17-year-old was the DH for that game and went 1-for-3. Perhaps AJ saw something in that game because the next day Salas was on the way to San Antonio.

The Padres are promoting their top prospect to Double-A. At the age of 17, Salas is the youngest player in the Texas League (where the average age is 24) by a mile. As far as I can from a fairly exhausting internet search process he's youngest player in the Texas League in the last 40 years so yes, he's early. Like, extremely early.

Salas's rise through the system is otherworldly. He signed as an international free agent in January and made his professional debut with Single-A Lake Elsinore at the age of 16. He played put together a fantastic .837 OPS that earned him a callup to Fort Wayne, where he was the youngest player in TinCaps franchise history. You'd figure that would be enough of a challenge for one year.

Not even close.

Salas played just nine games in the Midwest League. He hit .200 without a home run but handled himself more than capably behind the plate so the Friars decided to send him up another level. The organization thinks if anyone can handle this kind of aggressive promotion, it's Salas.

At the start of the year he wasn't in MLB Pipeline's list of the game's Top-100 prospects. By midseason he was 5th overall and the number one catcher. In fact, he's the youngest player ever to show up in the top 5 and just the second catcher to reach that high. The other is Adley Rutscman, who looks like he's going to go to about a dozen All-Star Games with the Orioles. I talked with Salas in June, shortly after his professional debut, and got a taste of the makeup the Padres are infatuated with.

"What's the difference between a minor leaguer and a Major Leaguer?" he mused. "How long it takes for one to make adjustments. I see guys make adjustments a little faster here and I can adjust to that."

He's already shown that ability, albeit in a very small sample size. His teammates seem to not just accept, but gravitate towards him and his coaches have been impressed with the way he carries himself.

"He's dialed in. He has a goal in his head you can tell he pays attention to the details. He understands the game," says Storm manager Pete Zamora, Salas's first professional skipper. "He wants to get better. Every day he shows up he wants to get better. He doesn't think he's the prospect we all know he is; he does not act that way at all."

Ethan has a couple of familiar faces making the trip to San Antonio with him. Pitcher Robbie Snelling, infielders Graham Pauley and Nathan Martorella, and outfielder Jakob Marsee also earned promotions. Interestingly, they were all drafted just last year and are already headed to the Missions in their first full seasons of pro ball.

The Texas League is technically just two steps away from the Major Leagues but the Padres have already called up a few players straight from there instead of sending them to Triple-A El Paso, including pitchers Alek Jacob and Jackson Wolf this season and there's chatter that when MLB rosters expand from 26 to 28 players they'll consider giving Jackson Merrill, a shortstop who was drafted out of high school two years ago and has been tearing up the minors, a big league shot at the age of 20.

What makes Salas's case even more unique is he's a catcher. That's a position that usually takes longer to figure out, delaying a trip to The Show. The last teenager to start an MLB game was Ivan Rodriguez in 1991. He didn't get to Double-A until he was 18 years old and now owns a plaque in Cooperstown.

I'm not saying that's how Ethan's career is going to go. But I'm also not saying it's NOT how Ethan's career is going to go. With a talent like the the sky's the limit and the Padres are not going to do anything to slow down his ascent.

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