A New and Improved Version of El Nino

Credit: USA Today Sports

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Credit: AP Photo

Finally, Fernando Tatis Jr., aka El Nino, found his groove in a spring training game against the Seattle Mariners. He hit his first home run since September 30, 2021, and stutter-stepped around third. Back then, he led the National League with 42 home runs for the season.

“My god, I can’t remember the last time I had that feeling. But it feels great. I haven’t been around for a year,” Tatis Jr. said. “I need to remind them how good I am in baseball and what I’m capable of.”Of course, Tatis Jr. has to make up for the time he’s lost to injuries, surgeries, and a suspension for PED use. He started the spring hitless in his first 16 turns at the plate. In 28 at-bats, he has six hits, six RBI, and an average of .214. He’s obviously capable of much more. In a career shortened by injuries and broken rules, he’s batted .292/.369/.570, wRC+ 153.

What a difference his presence could have made last year. With the exception of Manny Machado, Padres hitters left their bats at home. Defense, pitching, and Manny dragged the team to its first championship series since 1998. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what might have been had a healthy Tatis Jr. been on the roster.

Tatis Jr. spent the playoff run having a second surgery on his left wrist, which he broke in a motorcycle mishap. Just riding a motorcycle allowed the Padres to void his 14-year, $340,000,000. But, instead, the team stuck with him.

Also, in October last year, Tatis Jr. finally had the surgery he’d refused despite four subluxations of his left shoulder. A. J. Preller, president of baseball operations and general manager for the Padres, expressed his relief at his young player’s attitude adjustment. By the time he returns, El Nino’s shoulder and wrist should be as good as new.

“There was a question about more so the long term, over the course of the next 7-10 years, how everything would heal and would hold up,” Preller said. “… We talked with a lot of experts throughout the country — and (Tatis) ultimately made the decision: Let’s go in, let’s repair it, let’s take the screw out and put one in. Everybody felt like it went really well.”

Tatis Jr. finally admitted that he hasn’t been “the best version out there” and that his shoulder injury had affected his play. “A couple games, it got in the way. I was thinking and not diving headfirst, not doing my stereotypical movement. I feel like when I come back and start everything all over, I need to be 100% so I can do what I know how to do.”

Padres Fernando Tatis Jr.
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Tatis jr. will sit out 20 Major League games at the start of the season, which gives him an opportunity to get his timing down while also learning a new position. Even more critical, El Nino hasn’t griped about Xander Bogaerts taking over at short. Tatis Jr. has played in a total of 266 games, 242 at short.

He’ll have to build on a scant 20 games in right field. However, he has the advantage of speed and a cannon of an arm, which will play well in right. Although he appears to excel at short, he’s actually a defensive liability–9 DRS, -7.1 UZR150 (FanGraphs). In his few games in right field, he’s shown an aptitude for the position– DRS 0, UZR 150, a 1.8.

Tatis Jr. will have a manager with vast experience for the first time in his career. Bob Melvin has played with and managed a range of personality types and should work well with the new and improved Tatis Jr.

“I’ve had dialogue with him here throughout the postseason,” Melvin said recently. “He’s just looking forward to helping his team and getting back. He has a different perspective on things now, too. The hunger that he’s going to have to come in and be part of this — and help his team go farther than we did (in 2022) — is pretty immense.”

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Tatis Jr. has missed an entire year but has shown improvement during the course of his first spring training since 2021. The press has been hard on him.—with good reason. He’s anxious to turn the media coverage from negative back to the positive he received before the motorcycle accident (or accidents) and the PED use. He’s also anxious to get back in the groove, admitting that he’s lost a year and that fans have forgotten just how good he is.

His replacement, Bogaerts, recently acknowledged, “I think People tend to forget how good he is or how he has been in the past.”  Fernando Tatis Jr. admits that he has to remind Padres fans “how good I am in baseball and what I’m capable of.”

Barring any unforeseen setback, Fernando Tatis Jr. will get his first opportunity to prove those capabilities on April 20. The team and fans can move on from what might have been to the present, which is filled with promise.

2 thoughts on “A New and Improved Version of El Nino

  1. Hi Diane
    your article on El Niño is outstanding, and I enjoyed it very much.
    I am 86 years old and started listening to the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio when I was 8 years old. At that time there was not a direct line from the ballpark. The announcer read off a ticker tape for play by-play.
    I was brought up in New Jersey, about 6 miles from NYC.
    I would rate you in the class of Kevin Acee who writes for the San Diego Tribune. Keep up the good work 🧐

    Larry Tubbiolo

    1. Hello Larry,

      Thanks so much for your high praise of my article about Fernando Tatis Jr. I too have been a baseball fan since I was a child when we lived in Los Angeles and rooted for the Los Angeles Dodgers. When I was supposed to be sleeping, I had Vin Scully under my pillow. There will never be another Vin Scully (our dog is named after him.)

      I hope you’ll keep reading EVT and commenting!


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