Not long after Major League Baseball announced the end of the shutdown, the San Diego Padres received the grim news that their $340-million-dollar man, Fernando Tatis Jr., would be out for approximately three months due to a fractured wrist.
Combine that injury with his chronic shoulder problems. Tatis Jr. can not be penciled in at short anytime soon. Obviously, no one can replace one of the most talented, exciting (albeit risk-taking) players in the game, but help can be found within the organization.
In fact, the Padres’ new manager Bob Melvin said, “It’s obviously a hit. But it gives somebody else an opportunity.” Until Tatis Jr. returns, the Padres have three in-house options: Ha-Seong Kim, Jake Cronenworth, and prospect CJ Abrams. Cronenworth and Kim covered short during Tatis Jr.’s multiple absences last year. However, Cronenworth is more valuable at second, and Kim would be the logical first choice.
Last year Kim actually outplayed Tatis Jr. defensively at short. Despite Tatis Jr.’s dramatic, acrobatic moves, his defense at short has been suspect–FanGraphs UZR/150UZR/150, 2019 -8, 2020 2.6, 2021 -7.1. On the other hand, Kim tightened up the defense substantially (UZR/150 10.6) while making multiple highlight-reel plays.
However, Kim’s hitting left much to be desired as he faced big-league pitchers for the first time (.202,/.270/.352 in 298 plate appearances). Power pitchers ate him alive at first, but he did improve over the course of the season. Undoubtedly, that year of experience will make Kim more comfortable at the plate. Also, he’s been working with one of the top hitters in Korea, Jung-Ho Kang, during the offseason. On his first day of spring training, Kim told reporters through an interpreter that “It’s 200 percent difference. I’m much more comfortable this year.”
The Padres also have insurance in the form of their top prospect, CJ Abrams (the Padres’ sixth pick overall in 2019 at $5.2 million). He will have an opportunity during the shortened spring training to make a splash. Like Tatis Jr., the 6-2, 185-pound Abrams has the advantage of athleticism and speed, as well as the ability to play multiple positions. Unlike Tatis Jr., he has emphasized his willingness to play wherever the team needs him.
According to Keith Law of “The Athletic,” Abrams ranks fifth on his list of top prospects, while MLB.com has him a slot lower at sixth. In 2019, Abrams played for two teams: Fort Wayne A ball where he batted .393/436/647/1.083 and in Arizona rookie league where he batted .250/.333/.375/.708. In 2021 playing for Double-A San Antonio AA, the speedy left-hander had a slash line of .296/.363/.420/.782 and stole 13 bases. Overall he’s batted .343/.398/.529 in 348 plate appearances.
At every level, Abrams has been one of the younger players., and he’s considered a hard worker who is always striving to improve. Leg injuries (a fractured left tibia and sprained MCL in his knee) shortened his season in San Antonio, and a bruised shoulder in the Arizona Fall League curtailed his time in the batting cage. His father came to the rescue and installed a blow-up batting cage in his own backyard in Georgia. Now that spring training has finally arrived, the Padres will have Abrams focus on shortstop, while he’ll also occasionally take reps at second and shag fly balls in the outfield.
In the larger picture, the Padres have to deal with the behavior of their superstar, a common problem for sports teams in general who depend upon a demographic (young males) prone to risk-taking behavior. Most teams include clauses in their contracts banning activities like riding motorcycles, and it appears that Tatis’ contract included that language. However, voiding his contract has not been considered as an option.
Tatis says he first felt his wrist flare up about a month ago. “Nothing crazy. I thought it was something we could work through,” he said. Obviously, it wasn’t. The latest reports indicate that Tatis still hasn’t made a decision on surgery.
According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the Padres will move on and look to the future (while undoubtedly hoping that Tatis Jr. will stick to safer activities). In fact, new manager Bob Melvin recently announced that Tatis Jr.’ will not be riding his motorcycle anytime soon.
As far as we know, Tatis Jr. has not made an appointment to surgically repair his injured wrist. And what about his shoulder, which experienced four episodes of subluxation last season? Those questions will be answered as the San Diego Padres gear up for a shorter spring training with their new manager.