2023 brings new hope for Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr.

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

To say 2022 was a rocky year for superstar slugger Fernando Tatis Jr. is the understatement of the century. He, and the Padres, hope the new year brings new beginnings.

For Padres fans, players, coaches, and executives in 2022, Fernando Tatis Jr. was the carrot at the end of the string they just could not grab.

It was a maddeningly frustrating season for all parties involved. Padres fans felt betrayed, others angry to the point of wanting to trade away the All-Star. The team itself clearly reached its limit with his antics, given some of the statements president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller and Tatis’ teammates gave.

At the end of the day, the Padres fought in a pennant race, and arguably their best, most talented player was nowhere to be seen, to his fault alone.

Now, as the calendar changes to 2023, hope is kindled.

His Instagram story, along with other posts of him working out with some fellow teammates at Padres facilities, has fans thinking big in 2023. Is all forgiven? The results might be mixed if you stop Padres fans on the street and ask. You will probably get a much different answer if you ask again if the Padres truly do accomplish their goal of having a parade down the Gaslamp Quarter with the Commissioner’s Trophy over their heads.

However, it’s tough to argue that Tatis has done just about everything right since he went dark following the suspension. He said all the right things and looks to be working hard to back it up.

After some back-and-forth during the 2021 season and off-season, he finally got the shoulder surgery that he desperately needed. He also got a second operation on that wrist to enhance the healing of the original injury. He confirmed that his shoulder is fully healed, and his wrist is well on its way.

The next three months, before his scheduled arrival on April 20, are as important as any. He can participate in Spring Training games, which begin Friday, February 24. While the team has not revealed how many games in which Tatis will participate, they need him to appear in at least a few to gauge his progress in real-time against real pitching.

Suspended players are allowed to play Minor League games in the final two weeks before their reinstatement. Spring Training can serve as a de facto rehab stint for Tatis. After their final spring game on March 27, Tatis will only be able to participate in extended spring minor-league activities until one of the Padres’ Minor League teams begin their season. At that point, he can go on an official rehab stint beginning April 6.

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like the team is embracing him once more. The Padres announced their 2023 promotion giveaway days on Thursday. On September 5 against the Phillies, the Padres will have a Fernando Tatis Jr. Bobblehead night. Another sign of bridges mending.

On the field is where it counts. The last time we saw Tatis, back in 2021, all he did was put together one of the best single seasons by any Padres hitter ever. His 42 homers are the second most by a San Diego hitter, and his 7.3 oWAR in 2021 is third all-time. This resulted in him finishing third in NL MVP voting, losing out to Bryce Harper, with his now-teammate Juan Soto finishing as the runner-up.

Of course, the million (340 million?) dollar question is, can he repeat that after getting caught with a banned substance? Skeptics ask if much of his previous success was chemically-enhanced. My gut says very little if any.

Kevin Acee and Annie Heilbrunn recently published an article for the San Diego Union-Tribune detailing Tatis’ offseason work, including underwater training with Joe Musgrove. Based on Musgrove and Tatis’ comments, it’s easy to see the desire to return and set the world on fire once more.

The only thing left to do is prove it on the field.

Thanks to the Padres playing 12 postseason games, Tatis can return after just 20 games into the 2023 season. That means it is possible for him to set a career-high in games played, which currently sits at 130. If he is fully healthy and can reach beyond 130 games, there is no limit for him. He put together a top-three season in Padres history while missing 32 games in 2021. Imagine what he can do, playing in an extra dozen games.

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Indeed, there is still much work to be done for Tatis. He last logged an inning in the big leagues on October 3, 2021, almost 500 days ago. For now, it is permitted to let your imagination run wild at the possibilities for 2023 for the Dominican star. This Padres team has World Series aspirations, and will have his bat in an already all-time-great lineup in mid-April.

FanGraphs’ projections are letting their “imagination” run wild with their 2023 forecast for Tatis. Their STEAMER projections have Tatis smacking 35 homers with a .939 OPS and 5.5 fWAR in 120 games. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection gives Tatis 31 homers and a 154 OPS+.

As the poem by Alexander Pope says, “hope springs eternal.” In this case, this spring is a new beginning, a new hope, for the Padres’ All-Star slugger. Let’s sit back, let it happen, and enjoy.

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