San Diego Padres super prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is just about major league ready. Should the Padres allow the young phenom to be the teams opening day shortstop or will he serve his time in Triple-A for the month of April?
Fernando Tatis Jr. has been barreling towards Petco Park for the better part of the last two years like a slow-moving thunderstorm getting closer and closer.
After breaking his thumb this past July in Double-A San Antonio, the shortstop endured nothing more than a small speed bump on his path to the show. In fact, at the rate he was playing, he might have put additional pressure on the front office to give him a cup of coffee at the end of last season. Similar to what the team did with his contemporaries, Luis Urias and Francisco Mejia.
The thumb injury cost him the rest of the minor league season. Tatis found himself playing in the Dominican Winter League where he was given the opportunity to do something special that most kids lose after high school or maybe even little league. He played baseball for his dad, who was his coach in the D.R.
Fernando’s namesake, a former major leaguer himself famous for hitting two grand slams off of Dodger right-handed pitcher and former Padre Chan Ho Park in the same inning was the manager of Estrellas Orientales of the Dominican winter league. The team plays in the Dominican city of San Pedro de Macoris which is home to many current and former MLB stars such as Robinson Cano, Johnny Cueto, Alfonso Soriano, and Sammy Sosa just to name a few. This particular DWL club had not won a league championship since the ’67-’68 season until…..you guessed it. Father and son combined to lead Estrellas Orientales to their first title in over 50 years. Fernando Tatis Jr. was arguably the best player in the entire league playing against men much older than he as he is only 20 still. This baby faced assassin is now a chiseled 6-foot-3 and 185 lbs.
The Padres have as many question marks as they do answers heading into 2019, but one thing they can find comfort in is who the long-term shortstop will be.
This has been a recurring problem that the organization has been unable to answer. Not since the Padres had a young shortstop out of Clemson University by the name of Khalil Greene have they felt so confident about entrusting the field general position to a young player. Tatis taking over the position is not so much a question of if but as to when. After being one of the best players at the Double-A level last year at the age of 19, and then cruising through the Dominican winter league as a recently turned 20-year-old without it giving him much of a challenge, there is little more for him to prove at the minor league level.
A.J. Preller has said “the good ones come fast” and that “he will let us know when he’s ready”. Tatis is ringing the bells as loud as possible with his performance in the Dominican winter league and has said his goal this spring is to claim the shortstop position and help this team win. Few things could stand in his way, but we will examine these and give plausibility to what might slow the Tatis train from pulling up to Petco sooner than later.
Given that he broke his thumb sliding into a bag and was knocked out of the rest of the minor league season on July 19 gives the team ample opportunity to claim that he needs additional “seasoning”. He does only have 451 at-bats above A-ball competition, not including his play in the DWL. He could tidy up some parts of his game like a strikeout rate of 27.7% or a BB% of 8.4%. Neither of those stats indicates glaring deficiencies, but more like easy excuses to shelter the real reason to keep him in the minors. A major league team would never disclose this fact out of fear of retaliation and mutiny from the players union. The obvious reason to keep Tatis in the minors until May would be to gain an extra year of team control over him. Young stud shortstops with superstar potential do not grow on trees and to control this player for an extra year in the prime of his career could be worth it. Tatis could take in roughly $25,000,000+ in six or seven years via arbitration, especially with free agency looming for other shortstops like Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa over the next few years.
With this in mind, I suggest the Padres take a page out of the Philadelphia Phillies playbook from last spring and offer Fernando Tatis a long-term contract in the mold of something Phillies (Ben Zobrist lite) player Scott Kingery received six-years for $24 million but also included two club options that could increase the overall deal to $65 million.
Now the overall dollar amounts wouldn’t necessarily be the same of course but the framework could definitely be something to consider. This deal allowed Kingery to guarantee himself life-changing money as well as the fact he could start the season on the opening day roster instead of Triple-A till until the team gained that extra year of team control. This might be something that works for the player and the team by allowing the two parties to meet in the middle where everyone wins.
The third aspect of this is that any free agent of particular acclaim and clout will want to have the absolute best team available around him. There are some connections between Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. in that they both have Dominican roots, and they are both represented by baseball mega agent Dan Lozano. Wouldn’t it be nice if they also shared playing baseball on the same team for the San Diego Padres?