It is Fernando Tatis Jr’s Time to Shine

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Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in Fernando Tatis Jr.’s big league career, he isn’t battling injury, COVID, or disciplinary action by Major League Baseball.

Despite losing time, his skills have never been questioned. He has a standout speed/power combination and plays the game with verve and passion. However, he’s also been a problem child until recently.

In June 2016, the San Diego Padres traded James Shields and Erik Johnson to the Chicago White Sox for a 17-year-old prospect from a hotbed of baseball talent—the Dominican Republic. Baseball was part of Tatis’ family already, as the senior Tatis played in the Major Leagues for over 11 years. His son has fond memories of those days.

“I have more memories when he (Fernando Tatis Sr.) was with the Mets. I remember Jose Reyes always having fun with me and my little brother. Angel Pagan was always a great guy to us and to my family. I had Carlos Beltran, too. Most of the Latin guys were really close with my dad and they were really great to me.”

Tatis Jr. signed with the Chicago White Sox in 2015 but never played a professional game for the team as he was traded to the Padres for pitchers James Shields and Eric Johnson. By 2019, his talents had been recognized, and he was called up to the big club, where he batted .317/.379/590, with 61 runs and 22 home runs. However, a back injury shut him down. Despite that he came in third in the National League Rookie of the Year behind Pete Alonso and Mike Soroka.

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COVID-19 shortened the 2020 season to 60 games. Tatis led the National League in power and speed (13.4), hitting 17 home runs and stealing 11 stolen bases. He helped the team defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2020 Wild Card contest with two home runs. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers put an end to the Padres’ hopes in three games.

The following year, Tatis (14-year contract worth $340 million) joined Machado ($350 million over 11 years) as recipients of the two most generous contracts in the franchise’s history. Although he batted .282/.364/.611 with 25 stolen bases, a hint of problems with the young superstar began to appear. In September of that year, Machado yelled at Tatis, “It’s not about you,” after he watched strike three.

Tatis tested positive for the virus and had to sit out seven games. He was also reluctant to undergo treatment for a left shoulder subluxation. In April of that year, Dr. David Chao warned that each dislocation makes another more likely. Despite at least four subluxations, Tatis insisted he would make the decision, not the team.

Despite the subluxation, Tatis regrouped and batted .277/l36./571, stole 11 bases, hit 17 home runs, and knocked in 42 RBI. His efforts led to a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP contest behind Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, and Manny Machado.

The 2022 season revealed more problems with the young superstar. In March, he had surgery for a fractured scaphoid bone. When asked if a  motorcycle accident was involved, Tatis joked, “Which one?” He obviously found the situation humorous, but the front office obviously didn’t consider it a joking matter.

The situation did not improve when Tatis tested positive for PED use and had to sit out 80 games beginning on August 12, 2022.

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His father blasted Major League Baseball for handling the situation, proclaiming, “I don’t think there was a reason to destroy the image of a player over something as minor as that.” Although he admitted that his son had used a spray to treat ringworm that included an anabolic steroid, he said the punishment was too extreme.

Overall, he missed 563 days thanks to the suspension and three surgeries and did not return to the team until April 20 last season. The Padres had a very real opportunity to reach the playoffs—until the last week of the season. Even an eight-game winning streak didn’t help at the end. One can only wonder, if Tatis hadn’t missed those first games, would the Padres have made it to the playoffs?

Time and experience have obviously affected Tatis Jr. When the Padres signed shortstop Xander Bogearts; he moved to the outfield without public comment. He adjusted flawlessly and earned a Gold Glove Award. Despite missing those 20 games at the beginning of the year, he led MLB with 27 defensive runs saved. He is far better suited to right field than shortstop, where he has a negative DRS (-9).

This year, Tatis Jr. arrived in Spring Training healthy and ready for the next chapter in his baseball life. He has urged his teammates to “forget about our egos, It’s about the team and how we can perform together,”

Fernando Tatis Jr. is ready for the next chapter and has the makings of a team leader rather than a self-centered kid.

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