At the end of April, Fernando Tatis, Jr. – the consensus top prospect in the San Diego Padres’ organization – was batting.177, had an on-base percentage of .231 and had struck out 34 times in his first 102 plate appearances in Double-A San Antonio.
Many thought the Padres had pushed the 19-year old Dominican shortstop too far and too fast since his breakout year in Low-A Fort Wayne where he set team records for home runs in a season and left at the end of the season on top of most of the Midwest League offensive categories.
It seemed like everyone was worried except for Tatis.
“I think you have to believe in yourself and know that you can play this game,” he said at the All-Star Future’s Game on his first-month struggles. “I know I wasn’t really doing that much different but sometimes you don’t have success even when you are doing things that are correct, so I wasn’t panicking – that’s just baseball.”
“I knew that someday it was going to click, and it did.”
After April, Tatis Jr. hit .331, with an on-base percentage of .359 and a slugging percentage of .572 and according to Mike Saeger, the Missions’ play-by-play announcer, he was not only the best player in the Texas League but the “best player in the Texas League in a long time.”
Although for some 75 strikeouts in 290 plate appearances is still high, his manager Phillip Wellman pointed out that “most of his strikeouts come in his first at-bat. He makes immediate adjustments and then he doesn’t chase the same pitches that he did at that at-bat. If he’s seen the guy, he’s ok.”
“The only time he really gets himself in trouble is when he hasn’t seen certain pitchers, and that’s experience.”
Unfortunately, Tatis, Jr.’s season ended in mid-July when he fractured his left thumb sliding headfirst into second base on a steal attempt, but the numbers he put up on the offensive side of the ball along with plus defense at shortstop was still enough for him to be named the MadFriars Player of the Year for 2018. Tatis also took home the award in 2017, for his breakout year playing with the TinCaps.
He finished with 42 extra-base hits in 88 games, to go along with 16 stolen bases in 21 attempts and a slash line of .286/.355/.507 while being the youngest player in the Texas League.
How important was Tatis to the Missions this year? With him, the team was 57-39, after his injury, they finished out the regular season at 14-28. Although the team advanced to the final round of the Texas League playoffs, Tatis’ injury probably cost them a championship.
Tatis is the Padres’ best prospect since Sean Burroughs in 2002, and even that isn’t a fair comparison. While Burroughs also produced gaudy hit totals in the minor leagues before he was 21, he didn’t have Tatis’ ceiling, particularly for power and defense; where many pundits have speculated that the six-foot-four 205-pound player might outgrow the position.
“Zero,” said Sam Geaney, the Padres’ Director of Player Development when asked if he had any concerns about his ability to stay at shortstop.” He’s a very gifted player offensively, and one of the more unique things about him is that he has gotten bigger and stronger he’s also gotten faster and quicker. For a big man, he moves incredibly well and can make all the plays.”
Saeger echoed Ganey’s remarks, “To do what he did as a 19-year old in Double-A cannot be overstated. And forget about anyone who before the season doubted his ability to play shortstop in the big leagues. This kid is legit in the field.
“He’s going to be a big-time impact guy in San Diego.”
Tatis is playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and will be ready to go for Spring Training. He is expected to begin the year in Triple-A El Paso and should be up in the major leagues by June.
His ceiling is what Padres’ fans have been dreaming on for fifty years.