El Nino: All That Talent and the Intangibles Too

Credit: AP Photo

Credit: AP Photo

The more you see San Diego Padres’ rookie sensation Fernando Tatis Jr. play the game of baseball, the more impressed you become. He has been very impressive in his first taste of major league service time, and it goes way beyond his skill on the diamond.

Recently Diego Solares wrote about Fernando Tatis Jr.’s physical talents, which have been obvious from the first moment he took the field for the Padres (“Just How Good Can Fernando Tatis Be?”). But El Nino also has a leg up thanks to his heritage. His dad, Fernando Tatis Sr., not only passed along the DNA but also taught his son about the requirements of “La Vida,” the life of a baseball player. The same can undoubtedly be said for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. learning from his father.

Tatis Sr. watched as his son was introduced on Opening Day in Petco Park. Facing the Giant’s Madison Bumgarner in his first at-bat, Tatis Jr. roped a ball past third.  Since that first hit, Tatis Jr., at the ripe old age of 20, has displayed a baseball acumen and instinct undoubtedly absorbed from his dad and from just being around the game. On Sunday in Pittsburgh Tatis Jr. demonstrated that instinct when he dashed home from third after catching the Pirates’ second baseman Kevin Newman “sleeping.”

When Tatis Sr. broke into the big leagues with the Texas Rangers in 1997, his son had not been born.  The 22-year-old third baseman beat out an infield hit in his first trip to the plate. Both balls have a place of honor at Tatis Sr.’s home in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, a hothouse for baseball talent and development.

At the beginning of the season, Dominican players made up 11.6 percent of players on big league rosters. Unlike the United States, where football reigns supreme, baseball rules in the DR. So much talent has come from that tiny island including the likes of Juan Marichal, Albert Pujols, and Pedro Martinez.

Tatis Sr. ended his career in 2010 after spending 11 years in the major leagues. He played for the New York Mets, Montreal Expos, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles as well as the Rangers.  Thanks to two grand slams in one inning as a Cardinal he still holds the record for RBI in one inning. Tatis Sr.’s best years came during his time in St. Louis, an organization noted for the “Cardinal Way.”

Both father and son signed at the ripe old age of 17 (Sr. with the Rangers and Jr. with the Chicago White Sox).  In 2016 Tatis Jr. started his professional career in rookie ball and moved up to Tri-City his first year. He also played in the Dominican Winter League the last two years. Although Tatis Jr. may now be enjoying the life of a Major League player with its plethora of perks from chartered jets to fancy hotels, he’s also paid his dues in the bus leagues just as his father did.

Credit: AP Photo

Instead of sending El Nino back to the minor leagues at the end of spring training, the Padres threw caution (and service-time considerations) out the window and put him on the major league roster. General Manager A.J. Preller and company saw the desperate need for his bat, but also his speed and his defensive prowess. The shortstop position has been the Achilles’ heel for the Padres since then GM Sandy Alderson banished Khalil Greene to the wilderness at the end of the 2008 season, and Tatis Jr. finally fills that glaring void.

Almost three months into the season, Tatis Jr. has proven he belongs on the big- league roster with a batting line of .323/.387/.571/.958, WAR of 2.3 and OPS+ of 154. He’s worth the price of admission thanks to his innate physical skills but also thanks to the intangibles that cannot be measured statistically.

Early in his tenure, Preller discovered the value of immeasurable qualities by adding guys like Matt Kemp and Derek Norris, both of whom turned out to be less than stellar teammates. The acquisition of Eric Hosmer demonstrated a definite course correction. He couldn’t possibly have known that a 17-year-old could be the complete package, but it appears the Padres got just that in El Nino.

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