'Building something special': Padres sign top international prospect Ethan Salas for $5.6 million

Jeff Sanders, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Baseball

The Padres are coming off their third NLCS berth in franchise history. They walked away from the hot-stove season with one of the top free agents available. Their commitment to the foundation is as strong as ever, too, as they signed top Venezuelan catching prospect Ethan Salas as the 2023 international window opened on Sunday.

Salas' $5.6 million signing bonus is the Padres' third-highest on the international market behind the $11 million and $7 million commanded by Adrian Morejón and Jorge Oña, respectively, in July 2016.

The 16-year-old Salas is ranked No. 1 among international prospects by Baseball America and

"It's really exciting," Padres international scouting director Chris Kemp said by phone from the Dominican Republic after watching Salas sign his first professional contract. "You just want to keep building something special here, and Ethan is part of that. When you're building a special program, you need guys like Ethan. It's a fun day for our staff and scouts knowing we get to work with a kid like that."

Salas is the latest in a Venezuelan baseball family to make his way to affiliated ball. His older brother, José, signed with the Marlins for $2.8 million in 2019 and is ranked No. 4 in Miami's system by Baseball America heading into 2023.

Salas' father, José Sr., played in the Braves system, an uncle played in the in the Blue Jays' system and a grandfather played in the Astros' and Royals' systems.

"It's a legacy family," Kemp said. "Everybody knows about the Salas family."

At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Ethan Salas has began setting himself apart with what's been regarded as the smoothest, purest left-handed swing in the class and an advanced eye at the plate. He's athletic behind the plate and advanced in blocking and receiving. He also has plus arm strength, already producing 1.9-second pop times to second base.

Salas is also bilingual and possesses the kind of intangibles that the Padres believe will make him an asset to pitching staffs.


"We're just really excited to get the person," Kemp said. "He raises the level of the people around him. He's a guy that makes people better."

In the Padres' system, internal evaluators would group Salas with shortstop Jackson Merrill, catcher Luis Campusano and right-hander Dylan Lesko as the organization's top prospects.

Positionally, the farm system's catching depth falls off considerably beyond Salas and Campusano, who is expected to compete for a job on the big-league team's opening day roster.

Brandon Valenzuela's bat regressed as he moved to high Single-A Fort Wayne (.682 OPS) for his age-21 season, and 2022 fourth-rounder Lamar King Jr. appeared in just four games in the rookie-level Arizona Complex League last summer as the organization placed an emphasis on building his foundation entering pro ball.

While it remains to be seen whether Salas starts his career in Arizona or in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, there is a precedent for the Padres moving intriguing international signees directly to the United States to start their career. In the last two years alone, right-handers Victor Lizarraga and Jarlin Susana and infielder Rosman Verdugo have started their careers in Arizona. Lizarraga and Verdugo are both considered top-15 prospects in the organization, and Susana ranks in the top 10 in the Nationals' system after his inclusion in the Juan Soto trade.

The Padres were also expected to sign another dozen teenagers on Sunday as they began building their 2023 international class. Salas' payday eats up almost all of the Padres' $5.825 million bonus pool, but the Padres are well-versed in working with tight budgets and unearthing under-the-radar prospects. Their $80 million spending spree in 2016-17 limited their acquisitions to no more than $300,000 on a single player in two straight windows.

Players who've ascended to 40-man rosters in San Diego or elsewhere who signed for around that number or below include All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase ($125,000), Luis Patiño ($130,000), Tucupita Marcano ($320,000) and Eguy Rosario ($300,000).

"That's the fun part," Kemp said. "That's a fun challenge as a staff that we undertake—finding a guy that's been overlooked or is under the radar or finding a guy in a small town that's off the grid."

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