Back in January, the San Diego Padres signed touted Venezuelan catcher Ethan Salas to a . On Tuesday, Salas made his professional debut with the Low Class-A Lake Elsinore Storm, and became the first 16-year-old prospect to skip over rookie ball and play in Single-A since Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Julio Urías in 2013, according to Baseball America.
Here is Salas' first professional hit. He started the game at DH, worked the count full, then doubled in his first pro at-bat:
"He's kind of the total package catcher," Padres scouting director Chris Kemp told MLB.com back in January. "It's just rare. This is my ninth year doing international scouting, and, for us, this is the most interesting guy we've scouted."
Salas, who turns 17 on Friday, is a precocious talent whose advanced skills and baseball acumen are considered on par with recent international standouts like 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 routinely come back saying they believe it was worth going almost all-in on the 16-year-old, who could be a rare five-tool catcher. Salas's smooth left-handed swing helps him make solid contact to all fields. He currently projects for average power in the end, but there's the potential for more if he adds strength to his 6-foot-2 frame. As it stands, Salas already hit multiple homers in a Petco Park workout, proving to San Diego that his current pop is no joke either.
The Padres have had Salas work with Major Leaguers -- including Yu Darvish -- in early bullpens because his receiving, blocking, hands, communication skills and overall movement behind the plate are already so advanced. His ability to pop out of the crouch and utilize impressive arm strength should also help him limit the running game. Salas also runs well for a catcher, and even if he slows as he ages, the rest of his game is so well-rounded that he could be the face of the next catching generation.
Generally speaking, international amateur free agents who sign in January begin their pro career in extended spring training. They are then assigned to a short season rookie ball affiliate in June, either the Dominican Summer League or a complex league in Arizona or Florida. It is not uncommon for even top international prospects to spend 2-3 years in rookie ball before reaching Low Class-A.
Each team is given a bonus pool for international spending each year, which is a hard cap. No excess spending is allowed. San Diego had a $5,825,500 bonus pool this year and gave just about all of it to Salas, born on June 1, 2006. His older brother, infielder Jose Salas, went from the Miami Marlins to the Minnesota Twins in the Luis Arraez trade this past offseason.