SAN DIEGO -- In a surprise decision on the final day of Spring Training, the Padres announced that Fernando Tatis Jr. -- a 20-year-old with a seemingly limitless ceiling -- had cracked their Opening Day roster.
Forget his age and inexperience. Forget service-time considerations. The Padres believed Tatis was the answer at shortstop in 2019. Thus, he would begin the season as their shortstop.
It didn’t take long for Tatis to prove that -- after a dozen years searching -- the Padres had found their shortstop of the future. To put Tatis' contributions into their proper perspective: Padres shortstops had combined for 3.1 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, in the 12 years since the team's last postseason appearance. In 84 games this season, Tatis bested that mark with 3.6 WAR.
Injuries limited Tatis to those 84 games. But he batted .317/.379/.590 with 22 homers. In the meantime, he showcased his elite speed and baserunning, and he had a knack for making big plays on defense, too.
"I think I went out there and gave people a small taste of what I've got," Tatis said last month. "It was fun, although we didn't finish how we wanted to finish. It's not over. There's going to be way better years to come."
After an age-20 season like that, who could argue?
What went right?
There was almost no adjustment period for Tatis upon his arrival in San Diego. He took over games with his bat, his glove and his wheels. Within a couple weeks, he was batting leadoff. Within a month or two, he was the undisputed catalyst on offense.
If not for his mid-August back injury, it's possible Tatis could have become the youngest player in baseball history to win a batting title. Perhaps more importantly, Tatis never fell into a prolonged slump at the plate. The 20-year-old found his way on base, even when he wasn't at his best. And when he was? He was one of the most exciting players in the sport.
What went wrong?
When he was healthy, Tatis was a star. Problem is, Tatis was healthy for only about half the season. He missed all of May with a left hamstring strain. Then, in early August, Tatis' rookie campaign was shut down due to a stress reaction in his lower back.
By all accounts, Tatis was approaching full health toward the end of September. (The Padres never considered taking any risks with a potential comeback though.) His injury shouldn’t linger into the offseason. That said, Tatis also missed two months at the end of the 2018 Minor League season with a broken bone in his left thumb. There are legitimate concerns as to whether he might be a tad injury-prone.
So many to choose from. Tatis' leaping grab to rob Tampa Bay's Jesus Aguilar is the lasting defensive image from his season. His acrobatic slides and his audacity to tag up on a pair of infield fly balls stand out, too.
But no moment typifies Tatis' impact more than the Padres' six-run rally in the ninth inning of a mid-June game against the Rockies. Tatis started the frame with a single. Then he capped the rally with a game-tying laser to center field. He did it all.
If he can stay healthy, Tatis' 2020 outlook is bright. He will continue to anchor shortstop, and he'll presumably sit toward the top of the order, too. He's on pace to become a perennial star, and Padres fans have clearly begun to embrace him. That feeling is mutual.
"I have fallen in love with this city," Tatis said. "I fell in love with these fans. They're all crazy out there, and I like it. I like how they've treated me, I like how they perceive me. Hopefully it's just the beginning of something good for a long time."