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Tatis Jr. emerging as MLB's most dynamic player

Padres' 20-year-old shortstop living up to hype as rookie
@DKramer_
August 21, 2019

In the second Young Stars Week of the 2019 season, MLB is celebrating some of the game’s most dynamic emerging talents each day from Monday through Friday. Today the spotlight is on 20-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr.

In the second Young Stars Week of the 2019 season, MLB is celebrating some of the game’s most dynamic emerging talents each day from Monday through Friday. Today the spotlight is on 20-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr.

Webster's Dictionary defines the word dynamic as "marked by usually continuous and productive activity or change," and the term emerging as "newly formed or prominent." When tossing around those designations, arguably no player embodies them more than blossoming Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr.

Unfortunately, it appears that injuries are the only thing that can hold him back. Tatis' remarkable rookie season likely ended after he suffered a stress reaction in his lower back. He also missed more than a month from late April into June with a left hamstring strain.

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The Padres are hopeful that these are just temporary setbacks for the 20-year-old over what they envision will be a lengthy and prosperous career.

At the plate, Tatis’ .317 batting average had him vying to become Major League Baseball's youngest batting champion. At shortstop, he’s an acrobat who awes fans with leaping snares and throws touching the mid-90s. On the basepaths, he runs without restraint, but with a flair far from reckless.

“When he’s on the field, I literally cannot take my eyes off him, because I might miss something,” Padres radio broadcaster Jesse Agler said. “He’s so much to keep up with.”

The tools are all there, but the most glaring surprise in Tatis’ early development might be his poise, and how he’s been the club’s most significant contributor within a lineup that features Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Hunter Renfroe, among others. The Padres point out that Tatis rarely lets the proverbial moment confound him, which has statistical backing, with Tatis’ .360/.386/.580 slash line in 50 high-leverage at-bats this season, compared to a 310/.378/.592 mark in medium- and low-leverage moments.

“There’s been some ways that it’s happened faster than anticipated,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “His ability to flush a bad at-bat or a bad moment and respond favorably in the next moment is not something you typically see from a 20-year-old kid. Usually, there’s a hangover effect from a bad mistake, but baseball is ultimately a game of mistakes. So how you handle those mistakes and how you respond to them typically determines your ceiling. His ceiling is high.”

Poise isn’t necessarily something that can be easily coached. But therein lies where Tatis earned a distinct advantage among his Minor League peers during his development. He might only be 20 years old, but his upbringing -- his father being an 11-year big leaguer -- gave Tatis a distinct advantage to propel his development.

“I’m not surprised,” Tatis said of his early success. “I’ve been working the entire 20 years of my life for this. I’m trying to have a good time playing here and do my best every single day.”

To be sure, Tatis acknowledges room for improvement. His 29.6 percent strikeout rate is the fifth-highest among 167 qualified hitters, which actually isn’t far off from the numbers he posted in the Minors and could be a concern. Advanced defensive metrics suggests he’s struggled some in the field, though many of those measures stem from 14 throwing errors of his 18 total. Those are areas that can improve with repetition.

Of course, health is a significant factor, too, given that Tatis' style of play lends itself to more risk -- and he plays one of the most physically demanding positions.

But Tatis and the Padres are cognizant of context. It’s rare for a player to show such advancement at such a young age, which is why the club opted to break camp with Tatis on its Opening Day roster despite the option to limit his service time. He’s that valuable. The fact that he’s also so much fun is merely a plus.

"I'm always trying to be happy," Tatis said. "If I go 0-for-4, I'm still smiling, trying to have a good time with my boys. I always remember to myself that it's a game. You're not always going to win. But no matter what, you have to have a good time. Be the best version of yourself. Be a kid."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.