Just about everything Fernando Tatis Jr. does grabs your attention, and that now includes his contract.
Tatis and the Padres sent a huge ripple through baseball Wednesday night when they reportedly agreed to a historic 14-year, $340 million contract extension that will keep him in San Diego through 2034. Once confirmed, Tatis’ new deal will be the third-largest by total dollars in MLB history, and unlike the two superstars ahead of him on that list, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, the 22-year-old Tatis was nowhere near free agency.
The Padres, who famously acquired Tatis from the White Sox in exchange for pitcher James Shields, had already seen plenty to convince them to keep their franchise cornerstone in brown and yellow for as long as possible.
In less than the equivalent of one full Major League season, Tatis has packed in a ton of highlights that show why he’s baseball’s next five-tool force. Here is one cool example for each of those tools, picked out for your viewing pleasure:
Tatis’ 39 career homers are the most by any primary shortstop within his first 150 career games, and a lot of them have packed some serious punch. His longest career homer so far? A mere 468 feet … to the opposite field on July 20, 2019, at historic Wrigley Field.
Distance is only half of the story with Tatis’ dingers, of course, because the man can flip a bat with as much swag as anyone. And those flips can fire up his whole Padres team, as his emphatic toss did with San Diego facing elimination in Game 2 of last year’s National League Wild Card Series.
Tatis does more than slug. He hit a scorching .317 across 84 games as a rookie in 2019, and he didn’t see much drop-off in ’20 as he finished with a .277 average and .366 on-base percentage. Tatis squares just about everything up -- he finished in MLB’s 100th percentile in both hard-hit rate (percentage of batted balls hit 95-plus mph) and barrel rate, or ability to club the most dangerous air contact -- and he cut his strikeout rate by roughly six points from ’19 to ’20, finishing last year close to the MLB average at age 22.
We already showed you how well Tatis goes the other way, but check out this plate coverage from his homer off Oakland’s Yusmeiro Petit on Sept. 6 last year. Tatis handled Petit’s cutter off the plate and laced a frozen rope over the right-field wall at the cavernous Oakland Coliseum -- and don’t miss that casual bat drop at the end.
Tatis thrilled us so often last year that sometimes it’s easy to forget about all his other highlights from 2019. That rookie season saw him race home on short infield popups on multiple occasions, a seemingly impossible feat that he pretty much trademarked. Probably the most stunning example came on June 23, 2019, when Pirates second baseman Kevin Newman caught Hunter Renfroe’s can of corn a couple feet behind the infield dirt and then looked up to see Tatis breaking for home. You’d think Newman would have had plenty of time to throw Tatis out, given how close he was, but Tatis’ speed closed the difference in the blink of an eye.
Tatis went from one of baseball’s worst fielding shortstops as a rookie, according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average defense metric, to its best last year. Part of those early struggles were just Tatis trying to do too much on the easy plays, because he’s shown unbelievable range and athleticism ever since his debut.
So for Tatis’ coolest web gem? Well, one could very well pick his impossible, tip-toed leaning catch in the postseason last year. But we’ll drum up another memory: a seemingly impossible, leaping snag that took a sure single away from then-Astro George Springer last August. Check out the camera angle: Springer hit that ball to a no-man’s-land area that seemed so remote that Tatis is barely in the shot until he magically floats in at the end.
“He is so freaking talented,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said that day. “I don’t know how to explain it. We've got a No. 1 NFL receiver. We've got a point guard in the NBA. We've got a world class FIFA soccer player, maybe an anchor on a four-by-four Olympic team. We're just blessed that he was born in the Dominican and grew up playing baseball.
On top of every other gift we’ve highlighted, Tatis might have the strongest throwing arm of any infielder in the game. He averaged 86.8 mph on what Statcast labels “max effort” throws in 2020 (aka, the top 10% of a player’s sample), which led all full-time infielders.
What does that kind of throwing velocity look like? Take this play against the Dodgers (the kind of rivalry plays we can’t wait to see again this year), which saw Tatis turn a tough double play against the speedy Cody Bellinger by firing a 92.8 mph rocket over to first base.
Power, plate coverage, blazing speed, unlimited range and a cannon arm. Tatis has so many tools that it’s almost unfair, and now Padres fans will get to see him dazzle for so, so many years to come.