If Tatis moves to OF, who will be Padres' SS?

August 8th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- As the Padres toy with the idea of moving Fernando Tatis Jr. to the outfield upon his return from the injured list, that presents another decision: Who would play shortstop?

Jake Cronenworth has had the primary duty since Tatis landed on the IL on July 31 with a recurrence of his left shoulder subluxation. During Tatis’ previous two stints on the IL this season, Ha-Seong Kim had the call.

Cronenworth was at shortstop for Sunday's series finale against the D-backs, his fifth start at the position in the past seven games. He had started only six big league games at shortstop before the recent stretch.

“He’s played very well,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “He’s obviously surehanded out there. He does a great job of taking care of the baseball.”

Cronenworth, 27, has a small Major League sample at shortstop, but he played 367 Minor League games there. By contrast, he had only one pro appearance at first base before he established himself as Major League-worthy by filling in for an injured Eric Hosmer as a rookie in 2020.

Cronenworth brings added offensive value at shortstop, where his .813 OPS entering Sunday towered over the MLB average of .728 for the position. All MLB second baseman had averaged a .732 OPS, and first basemen a .773 mark.

Kim has yet to find offensive consistency in the big leagues, but he rates at a 1 on Statcast’s outs above average defensive metric at shortstop. Tatis, who has made many a spectacular play but has had trouble harnessing his powerful throwing arm this season, rates at a minus-1, as does Cronenworth.

If the Padres move Tatis to the outfield, it will be because they have determined he’s more likely to avoid reinjuring his shoulder and will stay in the lineup more often. His bat, obviously, rates at the highest levels at any position.

With Trade Deadline acquisition Adam Frazier able to play second base and the corner-outfield spots, Cronenworth able to play just about everywhere and Kim a defensive whiz in the infield, San Diego has gained the type of positional flexibility that National League West rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco have used to great advantage.

“We think, defensively, we’ve got a ton of versatility and a ton of flexibility,” Tingler said. “Kim’s been plus defense at three different spots defensively. Cronenworth, there’s probably not enough information out yet to prove it at shortstop, but that’s what it seems to be right now. So the flexibility and versatility is great.”

On the bases
Frazier stole second base in the eighth inning Saturday night to set up the go-ahead run in San Diego's 6-2 victory over Arizona. It was the Padres’ first stolen base since July 29. They had gone six games without a steal, notable for a team that led MLB with 92 stolen bases entering Sunday.

That’s all part of the game of adjustment. The Padres established themselves as a threat on the bases; opponents reacted.

“More teams have been slide-stepping, doing a better job of controlling the running game,” Tingler said. “They’ve picked more. They’ve done inside moves and things like that. That’s where we’ve got to continue to adjust our game. The main thing is we want to make sure they feel pressure when we’re on the bases."