Padres prospect Ethan Salas doubles in pro debut, first 16-year-old player in Single-A since 2013

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Back in January, the San Diego Padres signed visiting Venezuelan catcher Ethan Salas to a $5.6 million bonus on the first day of the 2023 international undrafted signing period. On Tuesday, Salas made his professional debut with the Low Class-A Lake Elsinore Storm, becoming the first 16-year-old prospect to skip rookie ball and play in Single-A since leaving Los Angeles Dodgers Julio Urías in 2013, according to Baseball America.

This is Salas’ first professional bout. He started the game at DH, worked the full count, then doubled in his first pro at-bat:

“He’s kind of the complete package catcher,” Padres director of scouting Chris Kemp told MLB.com in January. “It’s just rare. This is my ninth year doing international scouting, and, for us, this is the most interesting person we’ve been scouting.”

Salas, who turns 17 on Friday, is a prized talent whose advanced skills and basketball acumen are considered on par with recent international sights such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Wander Franco. MLB.com currently ranks him as the No. 87 prospect in baseball. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

Despite the heavy investment, Padres officials keep coming back to say they think it’s worth going almost in on the 16-year-old, who could be a receiver of five rare tools. Salas’ smooth left-handed swing helps him make solid contact to all fields. He currently projects for average power at the end, but has the potential to do more if he adds strength to his 6-foot-2 frame. As it stands, Salas has already hit several homers in Petco Park workouts, proving to San Diego that his current pop is no joke.

The Padres have had Salas work with Major Leaguers – including Yu Darvish – in the early bullpen because his reach, blocking, hands, communication skills and overall movement behind the plate are so advanced already. His ability to come off the huddle and use impressive arm strength should also help him limit the run game. Salas also runs well for a catcher, and even if he slows as he ages, the rest of his game is so rounded that he could be at the front of the next generation of catchers.

In general, international undrafted free agents who sign in January begin their pro careers in extended spring training. They are then assigned to short-season rookie affiliate ball in June, either the Dominican Summer League or a complex league in Arizona or Florida. It’s not unusual for even the top international prospects to spend 2-3 years in rookie ball before reaching Low-A Class.

Each team receives an international spending pool each year, which is a hard cap. Excessive consumption is not allowed. San Diego had a $5,825,500 bonus pool this year and gave almost all of it to Salas, who was born on June 1, 2006. His older brother, infielder Jose Salas, from the Miami Marlins went to Minnesota Twins traded Luis Arraez in the past offseason.

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