Why Tatis looks different in outfield this time around

April 24th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

At long last, an off-day.

The Padres capped their stretch of 18 games in 18 days with an impressive weekend in Arizona, in which they took three of four against the upstart D-backs.

They, of course, welcomed Fernando Tatis Jr. back to action in the first game of that series. He notched his first hit Friday and his first home run Saturday. But the highlight, for me, came Thursday, when he tracked down Josh Rojas' deep drive into the right-field corner. Off the bat, it looked ticketed for extra bases.

Manager Bob Melvin said he dropped his head and began gameplanning for a runner in scoring position. Then he heard the roar of the crowd. When Tatis returned to the dugout, Melvin informed him he missed the catch. He thought it was a double.

"I was like, 'No, you got me out there, Papi," Tatis said, laughing. "Let’s go."

That’s the ceiling for Tatis as an outfielder. My opinion: With his array of tools, there's no reason to think Tatis can't push for a Gold Glove this year.

That said, he’ll have to clean a few things up. It wasn't a flawless weekend for Tatis in right. We saw plenty of the good -- and a little of the bad. Tatis looked rangy, but he also twice overthrew cutoff men, allowing the uber-aggressive D-backs to take extra bases.

Let's not overreact on those. This was Tatis' first series in a year and a half. If he was a bit overeager, that’s not a sin -- so long as his mistakes become lessons.

"It's just more: hit the cutoff man," Tatis said. "I feel like I'm in a really good spot right now. Just making sure I take control of the ball a little bit more. But then after that, no regrets."

Love that confidence. Tatis’ arm will be a weapon. Heck, in March his manager compared it to one of the all-time great right-field arms. Tatis also looks much more comfortable tracking down balls in right field than he did in spring.

“He can go get balls with anybody out there,” Melvin said. “It’s just about getting comfortable, reading the angles and letting his feet take over and his instincts.”

It’ll take some time for Tatis to fully grasp the intricacies of the position. He’ll need to learn to strike a balance between being smart and being aggressive with his arm.

But the point is: This is clearly a different Tatis than the one who made the transition to right field in 2021 as a necessity to avoid injury.

That version of Tatis was not thrilled to be in the outfield, and it showed. This version? Tatis is just grateful to be back on the field after missing the entire 2022 season due to injury and his 80-game PED suspension. If that return comes in right field, with Xander Bogaerts having arrived at shortstop, so be it.

"New challenge," Tatis said. "I totally, fully embrace it."

Who knows what the future holds? Bogaerts won't stay at shortstop for the duration of his 11-year deal. Maybe there's a path back to shortstop for Tatis, who has privately noted that's his favored position.

But he is a right fielder right now, and he seems determined to be the best right fielder he can be.

"I feel like we're just getting started," Tatis said. "I'm still learning the position. I feel like every single day I'm going to get better at it."