People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare at my computer and watch my prospect status rise. —Fernando Tatis Jr. (probably)
Fernando Tatis Jr. entered the Padres organization mostly as an unknown. Acquired with Erik Johnson from the White Sox for James Shields, Tatis hadn’t played a single professional game when the Padres got him last June. Despite the household name, Tatis was mostly viewed as a wild card—an international amateur who hadn’t done enough to earn a huge bonus or lots of prospect cred.
In fact, the last time I wrote about him—in August in a WBOTF post—I noted the lack of coverage:
Tatis Jr. is so young and so inexperienced that you have to dig to find anything written about him on the internet . . . I mean, dig, dark web and all.
Fast-forward eight months and the internet is overflowing with words on Tatis, most of them glowing. For one, Tatis played, and played well. Split between rookie ball and low-A Tri City, the 17-year-old right-handed hitting shortstop posted a .273/.311/.432 line with 15 stolen bases and 24 extra-base hits in 55 games. Beyond the numbers, people really liked what they saw.
Within a few weeks, it became evident that the Padres had landed an outstanding prospect in the least-known part of the deal, as Tatis blew scouts in the AZL away and held his own at 17 in the advanced short-season Northwest League. . . . Tatis is an advanced hitter already at 17, with great feel for the game on both sides of the ball, including a good hitting approach for that age and a strong frame (he has his father’s square shoulders) that should produce at least average power but probably more.
Tatis has big-league bloodlines and a big-league body. He features a tall, mature frame which could still be growing, along with broad shoulders which allow for plenty of muscle development. That build lends itself to easy power projection, and when combined with an intriguing hit tool for his age, provides plenty of upside potential. He has the upside of a solid-average hit tool given his knack for barreling the ball. He shows smooth actions at shortstop, which make it easy to see him handling a shift to second or third base if he grows out of the position.
Kyle Glaser (on sticking at shortstop):
Reasonably optimistic. You watch him play there and it’s apparent he can. I was surprised at just how lithe and smooth he is over there. It’s the real deal. It’s a false myth that guys of a certain height don’t play SS. Tatis is 6-3 and likely to stay about there now that he’s 18. Same height as Troy Tulowitzki, shorter than Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, and only one inch taller Brandon Crawford and Andrelton Simmons. Obviously if he packs on 30 pounds of bad weight it’s a different story, but it’s apparent when you see him he has all the skills needed to stick there.
(On the trade from Chicago’s perspective):
That already looks like a trade to regret. Tatis is very, very, very good, just has to shore up some things and prove it at higher levels. Never a given, but all signs are pointing to the White Sox being hosed on that one, particularly given how bad Shields has been in Chicago.
(On Tatis’ ability to skyrocket up prospect rankings):
Yes. Needs to show he’s done some things as we move into this next season, but if he does, then yes.
Tatis has an all-star potential upside, capable of growing into an above-average bat with plus power production, and his consistent approach at such a young age bodes well for the development of a solid on-base component to his offensive contributions.
The primary return from Chicago in exchange for James Shields early this season, Tatis was already an intriguing prospect late in the spring but continued to improve as the summer went on and now looks like a potential star. . . . I have a future 50 on the bat, which is pretty aggressive considering where Tatis is at right now, but he’s still just 17 and has done nothing but exceed the expectations placed upon him as an amateur since arriving. If all the tools actualize, he’s a star. Of course, at just 17 and with hefty swing-and-miss issues, he’s also quite a risk.
Tatis is exciting from a prospect standpoint, for obvious reasons. He turned just 18 in January, and he’ll likely get significant playing time at Fort Wayne this season, with a good shot at reaching High-A Lake Elsinore. He’s far away enough to dream on but close enough to keep your attention. Law, who appears most bullish on him, ranked him as the 47th best prospect in the game.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Padres do with him defensively. There’s a bit of a logjam at shortstop in the lower levels of the organization, with Tatis, Javier Guerra, and Hudson Potts all in the org—not to mention even younger guys like Gabriel Arias and Luis Almanzar. Most think, due to his size, that Tatis will eventually transfer over to third base in a—and this is me interjecting—sort of Manny Machado-like conversion, as someone good enough for short but better suited to the hot corner.
Glaser makes a compelling case for Tatis as a shortstop, though, and it’s probably in the best interest of the Padres to give him every shot to stick at the more demanding position. While there’s a lot of low level depth at short on the farm, Guerra hasn’t received a positive scouting report since Boston, Potts matches Tatis in height (6-foot-3), and Arias and Almanzar have played a grand total of zero professional games. Plus, at short, Tatis just has a lower offensive bar to clear and more upside.
Tatis is in the organization because the Padres bought him. Alright, technically they traded Shields from him, but they wouldn’t have gotten Tatis without including $22 million over the next two years towards Shields’ contract. Shields could have opted out of his deal this offseason (and he did, in Ron Fowler’s dreams), letting the Padres off the hook without having to pay him. Instead he bombed in Chicago and stayed as far away from the free agent market as possible. That lost money won’t hurt the Padres, though—they’re a team with plenty of cash and a cratering payroll.
With fewer and fewer places to spend leftover dollars, buying prospects in veteran swaps makes plenty of sense. Buying prospects like this—ones with oodles of talent and semi-realistic future star power—makes even more sense.