Back at full strength, Tatis stays put at shortstop

February 13th, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After a quiet offseason of rest and recovery in the Dominican Republic, is healthy again. And, yes, he's still a shortstop.

Coming off one of the best rookie seasons in Padres history, the 21-year-old was on hand Wednesday as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training at the Peoria Sports Complex. He's back to full strength after a lower-back injury cost him the final month and a half of the 2019 season, and he won't be limited in camp.

Tatis also addressed a persistent rumor that he might see time in the outfield this spring. He indicated that he hadn’t engaged in such a conversation with anyone in the organization. Ever the team player, however, Tatis said he’d be open to it.

"I would've," Tatis said. "If they needed me out there, I would go out there."

Moments later, Padres general manager A.J. Preller quashed that notion. Asked if Tatis might get a few reps in the outfield this spring, Preller made himself clear:

"He's not," Preller said.

The rumors weren't totally out of -- pardon the pun -- left field. Earlier this offseason, the Padres and Indians held discussions about the possibility of a trade for Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor.

According to sources, when those talks took place, the club discussed the possibility of moving Tatis to center, to clear space for Lindor at shortstop. But that deal was never close, with many in the organization believing the Indians' asking price was far too high.

Lindor, of course, is one of the best shortstops in the sport and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner. Ultimately, that's probably what it would've taken to move Tatis from his favored position, sources said.

In his rookie season, Tatis made a handful of outstanding plays and flashed some serious upside at short. But he committed 18 errors in just 83 games, and defensive metrics pegged him as one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. His -13 Outs Above Average were tied for third worst among infielders, according to Statcast.

Internally, the Padres aren't too worried about those numbers. Tatis was a 20-year-old playing shortstop in the big leagues. That's a huge responsibility, and many in the organization feel he often tried to do a bit too much.

“The first thing that radiates is just his talent,” said manager Jayce Tingler. “It's easy to go through a highlight video and watch extraordinary play after extraordinary play. One thing we have to do as a group -- we're going to have to do a better job taking care of the baseball, collecting our routine outs. If we can clean that up -- not just at shortstop -- that's an area of emphasis, that's a part of winning baseball.”

Tatis isn't likely to morph into a Gold Glover. But the Padres feel he projects as an average-to-above-average shortstop. Pair that with his offense and his elite baserunning, and Tatis is already one of the most exciting players in the sport. Last year, Tatis batted .317/.379/.590.

Of course, his season was shortened by a pair of injuries -- a hamstring strain in April and a lower-back ailment in August. As a result, Tatis didn't take part in winter ball, as he typically does.

"[The offseason was] just a lot of rest and taking care of my body," he said.

Some have wondered whether Tatis' playing style is the primary reason for his injuries. He plays a dazzling, relentless brand of baseball, one in which he escapes rundowns with Matrix-esque slides and scores from third base on infield popups.

Is it possible that his unbridled aggression contributed to the injuries? Sure, it’s possible. But the Padres aren't likely to ask him to hold back.

"[I'm going to play] the same way," Tatis said. "Why change?"

Rumors of a potential move to center field resurfaced after the Padres traded Manuel Margot to Tampa Bay on Saturday. The position should feature one of the most intriguing battles of the spring, with , , and all vying for time. Rest assured, Tatis is not part of that mix.

“We’ve considered a couple center fielders,” Tingler said. “We've never once discussed Tatis being out there.”

• The Padres claimed infielder off waivers from the Blue Jays on Wednesday, adding another name to a crowded group of infielders competing for one of the team's final roster spots. There's probably only one infield place available, and Valera joins a group that also features , and . Valera played second, third and short last season, and he batted .234 with a .691 OPS in 17 games.

To clear space on the 40-man roster, right-hander was placed on the 60-day injured list. Espinoza underwent Tommy John surgery last April and likely won't pitch until the second half of the 2020 season, if at all this year.

• The Padres recently got a bit of clarity in their quest to fill the fringes of their 26-man roster. Right-hander , who spent most of his career at shortstop before transitioning to a bullpen role last season, will not be eligible as a position player under Major League Baseball's new roster rules. Those rules stipulate that teams may carry no more than 13 pitchers.

Guerra's roster chances took a bit of a hit with the news. The Padres have a deep group of bullpen arms, and Guerra would have to impress this spring in order to make the club as one of eight relievers. But after six professional seasons as a shortstop, he's out of Minor League options.

• Ryley Westman, who had served as the team's catching coordinator, has been promoted to director of player development. He fills the role of Ben Sestanovich, who left during the offseason to become assistant general manager in Atlanta. Westman, an upbeat instructor and a well-respected presence within the organization, will work alongside Sam Geaney, the team's senior director of player development.