Fernando Tatis Jr. opened last year as the fifth-youngest player in the Midwest League. He was the youngest player in the Texas League upon a surprising promotion to Double-A San Antonio last August.
Today, officially, the 19-year-old shortstop is the youngest player in a major league camp.
The Padres’ top prospect remains unfazed.
Tatis is ranked No. 3 among all prospects by ESPN’s Keith Law. Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Fangraphs.com and Baseball Prospectus all rate Tatis among the top-10 prospects in the game.
The son of a major leaguer, Tatis zoomed from low Single-A Fort Wayne to start 2017 all the way to Double-A San Antonio’s playoff roster.
Fashioning a 1.054 on-base-plus slugging percentage in July and pushing it to 1.262 in August warranted the aggressive promotion. Tatis responded by logging the first four-hit game of his career in his second week in the Texas League, with a .255/.281/.327 batting line in the 14-game audition and going 7-for-20 (.350) with a homer and two RBIs during the Missions’ five-game playoff run.
For his first full season as a pro, Tatis Jr. finished with a .278/.379/.498 batting line with 22 homers and 32 steals.
The long year continued with a stay in the Padres’ instructional league in Peoria and a stint in the Dominican Republic Winter League, where Estrellas Orientales made Tatis the No. 1 overall pick. He managed to fit in an actual offseason somewhere between all that before working out with Robinson Cano to prepare for camp.
Tatis turned 19 some six weeks before walking into Peoria’s big league clubhouse Friday morning.
“It’s a dream come true,” Tatis said. “I know this is the first step. I’ll try to keep it going and moving forward.”
Which likely means a return to Double-A San Antonio regardless of how he performs this spring.
Tatis may be the shortstop of the future. The shortstop of today is Freddy Galvis, whom the Padres are paying $6.825 million in the final year of his contract.
Before that, the hope is the 28-year-old Galvis, a six-year major league veteran, will begin to take some of the Padres’ young position players under his wing. It even began in earnest with Galvis watching video with 22-year-old shortstop Javier Guerra hours after his arrival in camp.
“You don’t see that typically on the first (day),” Padres manager Andy Green said. “I was excited to see somebody make an investment in a young guy and I would expect that investment to Fernando Tatis Jr. as well.”
Generally speaking, Tatis’ marching orders will be to get comfortable in a major league environment, get to know the organization and glean whatever he can from the veterans in the clubhouse. While Green admitted he’ll have a few items he wants Tatis to attack this spring, the Padres’ third-year manager won’t reveal those until after he’s talked with the organization’s latest prodigy.
It would not be a surprise if Tatis’ spring agenda has a lot to do with staying in the middle of the infield.
At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Tatis could very well outgrow shortstop. He could, as some evaluators have suggested based on his arm strength, hands and current lateral range — follow the likes of Corey Seager (6-4, 220) and Manny Machado (6-3, 185) as next in a generation of big-bodied shortstops.
“You look at the guy in L.A.,” Green said of Seager. “That’s as big a body shortstop as you’ll ever see. You look across the game. They get bigger and bigger. Machado is going to go back and play shortstop this year. I know a lot of people have talked about Fernando Tatis Jr. in the same sentence as him. I don’t think anybody really deserves that until they start doing stuff at the big league level. I think you look at Fernando and the understanding is he’s eventually going to fill out. It’s a nice frame. It’s very athletic.”
Easy to project. Easy to get excited about. Easy to dream on.
Of course, Tatis knows better than to participate in much of that even as he arrives under a microscope.
Tatis’ father, now a manager for one of Boston’s two rookie-level Dominican Summer League teams, pounded that home over the years. His advice upon Tatis’ departure for Peoria mirrored the wisdom dished out throughout Tatis’ ascent from teen-aged wunderkind to intriguing international signee to one of the top prospects in the game.
“Don’t try to get too high; don’t try to get too low,” Tatis Jr. said. “This game, you’re going to have fun. You have to prove what you got and have fun.”
By Jeff Sanders