The 2023 MLB season is underway; generational talents like Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuna Jr, Juan Soto, Vladdy Jr, Julio Rodriguez and many more have captured the big stage since entering the league. But there is just one problem with that list: it is missing an enormous name, a superstar and icon for the newer generation of baseball, potentially the most intriguing topic of discussion around the league. As the title implies, I am referring to Padres shortstop turned right fielder, Fernando Tatis Jr.
In less than a week, he will make a highly anticipated return to the field after more than a year layover from game action. And if you follow baseball closely you may know why: multiple shoulder dislocations, falling off a motorcycle and fracturing his wrist, and the most notable setback for the 24 year old, the reason he was not available to begin the season, an 80 game suspension for the use of the performance enhancing substance Clostebol.
Is it true that he used it to become a more juiced player on the field, the way players like Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds did? It is highly unlikely, but that’s a discussion for a different day. For somebody so proven at that young of an age to try to unnaturally enhance his game just would not make sense. And Tatis’ injury history I previously mentioned is a likely cause for the use of steroids. His father, himself, and most of the Padres organization claims that he used it to treat the skin infection ringworm and ultimately try to speed up the recovery on his wrist and left shoulder issues. That’s besides the point: it was illegal and clearly violated the regulations MLB has put on the drugs players can and cannot use. Nevertheless, multiple occasions of injuries and immaturity have plagued the young superstars' track to a first-ballot Hall of Fame career, which seems very unlikely following the sticky situation.
He has received a hefty amount of criticism for his actions, by current players, past players, staff, and just fans of baseball in general. A quick return back to elite form for Tatis Jr. will require more than it ever has for him. This does not have to do with the player he has been when healthy and on the field, because that version of him has captured fan attention unlike any other player has. Rather, it has everything to do with multiple factors that have gone VERY unnoticed this off-season. For starters, through the talk of his 80-game suspension, Tatis Jr. made great use of the time off by opting for surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder in early September, just three weeks after word was released of the suspension.
Doctors had actually urged Tatis to get the surgery years back after multiple occasions of shoulder dislocation, but he wanted to play through it. Furthermore, not only did Tatis Jr have surgery on his fractured wrist as a result of the many motorcycle crashes in March, but he followed that up with a SECOND wrist surgery in early October. And might I remind you, all this time has passed before Tatis Jr. could even begin baseball activities. That is three surgeries in almost a year with the remainder of the time designated to physical therapy and other strength workouts, not baseball. So it is hard to expect someone going through that much time and trauma to just jump back on the field and instantly play as if nothing happened.
Padres new SS Xander Bogaerts was signed to a massive 11 year/280 million dollar contract this off-season, and has justified it with a hot start in 2023 (.354/.427/.585 slash line). Yes, a shortstop, the position that Fernando Tatis Jr once owned. That means a position switch is inevitable for him. The only place to put him is in the outfield, likely in right field with fellow 24 year old Juan Soto sliding over to left. And yes, Tatis Jr. surely has the athletic tools to be more than just fine in his new position in 2023, but he didn’t look all that great in his short outfield stint in 2021, so that is a question mark. It is well documented that position changes sometimes affect batting numbers for the better or worse. Giving Fernando Tatis Jr. stability and consistency at the new position will put him in the best spot to lock in on both offense and defense.
On the opposing side of this argument, something that may benefit Tatis in his return is the MLB rule change implementing slightly large bases. Fernando Tatis Jr. has been one of the fastest and most aggressive base stealers in the league, so taking away a few extra inches from the slide into second or third base could open the door for a career high in stolen bases. That data will only come with time. He has worked tirelessly in the last two off-seasons to regain his form and build upon the tremendous success he achieved in his first three seasons in the league. With his exceptional skills, boundless energy, and a winning attitude on a team hungry to win a World Series, Tatis Jr. is poised to make a massive impact.
He does it all: incredible range, quick reflexes, and a powerful arm on defense, with his ability to hit for power and average, steal bases, and drive in runs. He's a true five-tool player and one of the most exciting players to watch in the game today. Regardless of if Tatis Jr. returns to superstar form immediately, there is no doubt that he will eventually. He’s just too special of a talent not to. But it is definitely going to be something to watch when he makes his return to the field, because a lot has happened to El Niño in the last few years. If his electricity shines through, the reason why the baseball world fell in love with Tatis Jr. in the first place, then all doubts will be dropped and he will be back as the face of baseball, a sure fire annual MVP front runner and an icon for the younger generation of the game.