CJ Abrams showing why he's a top prospect

March 4th, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Three years ago, a wiry 19-year-old shortstop arrived at Padres camp looking to make an impact. No, there wasn't any realistic chance that Fernando Tatis Jr. would crack the big league roster that spring. He'd barely spent any time playing pro ball.

But Tatis made an impact immediately. In his first game, he launched an opposite-field homer. A couple days later, he smacked an opposite-field single against Madison Bumgarner and made a dazzling diving play. The Padres played Tatis early and often, and he proved he was up for the challenge.

It was precisely the type of statement that Padres decision-makers were looking for. Tatis was only 19. But he fit right in among big leaguers.

Cue CJ Abrams in 2021.

Abrams, 20, is the Padres' newest elite shortstop prospect, ranked second in their system and eighth in the sport according to MLB Pipeline. It would be unfair to suggest Abrams is on a trajectory to match Tatis.

But it's not unfair to point out that in his first big league Spring Training, Abrams, too, is fitting right in.

"I'm just going out there, doing what I do, and having fun," Abrams said.

Abrams is the type of electric prospect whose game catches the eye. He has elite bat-to-ball skills and elite speed. Tuesday afternoon offered the perfect confluence of both when he connected on a gapper to right-center at Salt River Fields.

Abrams turned on the jets and flashed those 80-grade wheels that make him one of the sport's fastest prospects. He cruised into third base, standing up. Padres manager Jayce Tingler did a double take when he looked down at his stopwatch and saw just over 11 seconds.

In the entire 2019 season, only 14 players went home to third in faster than 11 seconds, according to Statcast. Kevin Kiermaier had the fastest time at 10.48. Abrams was in that vicinity -- and he'd pumped the brakes as he approached third base. Tingler wondered whether he had started his watch a split-second late, but a cursory fact check shows that, no, it wasn't the watch. Abrams really is just that fast.

On Wednesday, Abrams showcased a few of his other tools against Milwaukee. In the top of the sixth inning, he made a diving stop with his backhand at shortstop, then threw from his backside to get the force at second. In the bottom half of the frame, he smacked an opposite-field RBI single, then swiped second.

"He's making a very good [impression]," Tingler said. "The things you want to see, he's doing on the field. But the things that go unnoticed -- he's getting to the ballpark early, getting his early work in, everything that you need to do to play at the big league level."

Abrams, who was selected sixth overall in the 2019 Draft, received only nine plate appearances at Class A Fort Wayne. He spent the '20 season at the team's alternate site, and some Padres officials think that might've been particularly helpful for his progression. Abrams doesn't disagree.

"Playing against the higher level, you're obviously going to get better faster," Abrams said. "It's just a lot of fun playing against good competition."

The Padres have stationed Abrams among their top infield group often this spring, meaning he gets to work alongside Tatis.

Abrams is constantly taking mental notes. (Who better to learn from, after all?) Abrams said he's particularly interested in Tatis' footwork and his path to the baseball.

"Anything I can get, I'll pick it up," Abrams said. "It's big. Tatis is obviously a great player, and being able to work with him and see him daily -- it's amazing."

Of course, therein lies a conundrum for the shortstop-rich Padres. (Seriously, the shortstop-rich Padres. Who could've envisioned this, when they slogged through a dozen years with no long-term answer at the position and eight different Opening Day starters?)

The Padres genuinely believe Abrams will become a big league caliber shortstop. He's certainly athletic enough, with the requisite smooth hands. He has a solid arm and good instincts, too.

So… if Abrams is a shortstop… and the Padres have arguably the best shortstop in the sport locked up for 14 seasons… and, no, Abrams isn’t being touched in a trade… what gives?

Down the road, it's possible that Abrams transitions to second base or center field. But philosophically, the Padres want Abrams playing short for as long as he possibly can.

"We think he's a shortstop," said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. "The development of that -- what we believe is that shortstops can play other positions."

Good enough for Abrams. If he moves to a different position down the road, so be it. He doesn't concern himself with down the road.

"[I'll just do] what I need to do," Abrams said. "Just continue to get better and have fun -- control what I can control."