Fernando Tatis Jr looks like the total package. He can hit, hit for power, run, field and throw.
But to expect a player to jump from an injury-shortened Double-A season to the majors and instantly produce is too much. When that player has initially struggled at most levels, it becomes crazy. Of course, Tatis has the potential to be crazy good. As much as his career speaks to initial struggle, it also demonstrates impressive adjustments leading to eventual domination.
As an 18-year-old in Single-A Fort Wayne in 2017, Tatis got off to an icy start. In his first month he recorded only one home run, with a .658 OPS in 99 PA. Over the next few months, Tatis dominated the Midwest League. He hit 20 homers with a .965 OPS in 419 PA. Clearly, he needed a new challenge.
1️⃣ more year ‘till he can match the amount of HRs he hit with us in 2017! Happy 2️⃣0️⃣th birthday Fernando! pic.twitter.com/xwyM7FbJeh— Fort Wayne TinCaps (@TinCaps) January 2, 2019
And a challenge he received.
Tatis spent the rest of 2017, and beginning of 2018, struggling to find a groove in his new assignment at Double-A San Antonio. By the end of April 2018, he had amassed 161 PA of frustration as the Missions shortstop. He had a disappointing .580 OPS with 51 strikeouts against only 8 walks and 4 home runs. Padres fans reminded themselves that Tatis was only 19-years-old. But, for at least a moment, it looked like the shine was wearing off the organization’s most highly regarded prospect.
Then the calendar flipped to May and Tatis became the best player in the Texas League.
In 290 PA—from the end of April until a broken thumb finished his season in July—Tatis exploded with 13 home runs and a .969 OPS. Even including his poor April, Tatis posted a 133 wRC+ that ranked second among the league’s qualified hitters.
Another year, another adjustment, another level dominated.
Still, questions lingered. How would a broken thumb hinder his development? Would he be ready for big league camp in the Spring? How would he bounce back after months of no baseball activity?
Tatis got a chance to answer in the Dominican Winter League. In only 67 PA, he hit 3 home runs, swiped 7 bags and finished with a .866 OPS, 5th-best in the league.
One year earlier, in 2017, the Estrella Orientales made him the top pick in the league’s annual draft. He collected 1 home run with a .744 OPS in his first taste of the baseball world’s most competitive winter league. Solid numbers for an 18-year-old, especially compared to fellow phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s .553 OPS. But as is routine for Tatis, his second round was even better.
The Padres organization believes that it has a true star in Tatis and is doing its job to put him in a position to succeed. When he does debut, he will do so surrounded to be a quality group of infielders. Whether or not Eric Hosmer is worth $20M-plus per season as a baseball player, there seem to be no questions regarding his leadership. Manny Machado—a Spanish-speaking star, former top prospect, elite defender—is the perfect player to let Tatis develop out of the spotlight. At second, the Padres have two excellent fielders for Tatis to either learn from—Ian Kinsler—or grow with—Luis Urias.
Will Tatis play for the Padres in 2019? Almost certainly.
Will he start the season in San Diego? Doubtful.
Will he struggle when he does debut? Probably.
Will he adjust? His career screams “Yes.”
All signs point to an excellent career.
Just be patient, expect some struggles, and give the uber-talented shortstop-of-the-future a chance to adjust.
How much value do you expect Fernando Tatis to provide this season?
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