With Soto locked in at LF, where will Tatis play?

February 14th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres' positional dominos are falling into place.

Manager Bob Melvin confirmed Tuesday that star outfielder Juan Soto will make the transition back to left field, where he began his career. That would seemingly set up Fernando Tatis Jr. to slide into the right-field vacancy -- and Tatis took fly balls in right during Tuesday morning’s workout at the Peoria Sports Complex. Still, publicly at least, the Padres have yet to commit firmly to that portion of the plan.

Soto spent the past three years playing right field exclusively, though he played his first two seasons in Washington as a left fielder. He said recently that he'd be open to a switch but would prefer to be locked in at one of those two spots, rather than shuffling between them.

When Soto arrived at camp, he and Melvin finally had that long-awaited discussion.

"Left is what we're going to work on with him, and we're going to try to keep him in that one spot," Melvin said.

Soto was a finalist for the Gold Glove Award in right field last season, though he is generally regarded as, at best, an average defensive outfielder. His range is limited -- at least in comparison with some of the Padres' other outfield options.

Meanwhile, right field always seemed like a sensible landing spot for Tatis. He played there a bit in 2021, and Petco Park's spacious right-center-field gap could suit his elite athleticism and rocket arm. With an offseason’s worth of preparation, Tatis thinks he might thrive there.

“I feel like I’ve got time to work at it this year,” Tatis said. “I just feel confident in how I’m going to play out there, just putting my focus out there.”

Barring injury, it’s a formality at this point that Tatis will make his return as an outfielder. Xander Bogaerts is slated to start at shortstop, and the rest of the Padres infield is set -- with Ha-Seong Kim moving to second, while serving as Bogaerts’ backup at short.

Still, the Padres haven't committed to a set position for Tatis, who won't return to game action until April 20 at the earliest, once he finishes serving his PED suspension.

"We still have to get through spring, and then there's 20 games before [he returns]," Melvin said. "Yeah, he's open to anything."

Unlike with Soto, the Padres do not appear likely to lock Tatis into a singular outfield spot. He spent the offseason working at a number of different positions, and it's still possible Tatis might be used in center for a few games. (If, say, Trent Grisham were to sit against a tough left-hander.)

"From where he's come from, he just wants to play and contribute and get out in the field," Melvin said of Tatis.

Realistically, of course, the Padres are merely looking forward to drawing up a lineup that features both Soto and Tatis -- wherever they end up playing.