With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Padres, breaking the team down position-by-position. Today, we preview the San Diego shortstops.Around the Horn series:Catcher | First base | Second baseIt's been a while since the Padres entered a season with a highly touted
With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Padres, breaking the team down position-by-position. Today, we preview the San Diego shortstops.
Around the Horn series:Catcher | First base | Second base
It's been a while since the Padres entered a season with a highly touted youngster set for significant time at shortstop. This year, they have two.
To be clear, Fernando Tatis Jr. is San Diego's shortstop of the future. Tatis is the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, and he's going to take the reins at some point this season.
But it's unlikely Tatis opens the regular season with the big league club, having only played 102 games at Double-A. In the interim, Luis Urias will probably be handed the keys at shortstop. Urias is widely believed to be Tatis' long-term double-play partner at second base, but he split time fairly evenly between second and short in the Minors before making his Major League debut in late August last season.
Urias' case to be San Diego's Opening Day shortstop received a serious boost when the Padres signed Ian Kinsler in December. The move was made, in part, to address their shortstop opening, with the front office believing Urias could shift there until Tatis' arrival.
Of course, given the void at third base, San Diego general manager A.J. Preller will almost certainly add another infielder this offseason, and the Padres might be best served if that infielder can play both shortstop and third base.
• Padres' 3B experiment with Myers is over
But for now, here's how the organization lines up at short entering the season:
Projected starter: Urias
Potential backups:Greg Garcia, Javy Guerra, Jesus Quiroz
Top 30 prospects: No. 1 Tatis, No. 4 Urias, No. 18 Xavier Edwards, No. 20 Gabriel Arias, No. 30 Owen Miller
Urias isn't the shortstop for long. Tatis tears through Spring Training, and he's promoted by late April. (It's hard to envision the Padres calling up Tatis until then, given that they'd gain an extra year of team control by waiting. Plus, he might still need more time in the upper levels of the Minors.)
Upon his arrival, Tatis' five-tool credentials shine in the Majors as they have at every other level. He becomes an instant favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year. Even though he just turned 20 on Jan. 2, Tatis makes his leap to the big leagues as seamlessly as Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto did last year.
Tatis' ebullient personality should make him an instant fan favorite in San Diego, too. (Just look at this walk-off dinger and bat flip in winter ball.) In the best-case scenario, Tatis realizes his star potential in 2019, and the Padres have a shortstop worth building a contender around -- and a budding star at second in Urias to boot.
Tatis is 20. It's hard to question his long-term promise. But there's a steep learning curve awaiting him in the big leagues, especially at one of baseball's most demanding positions.
The same holds true for Urias. If he struggles at short, the Padres might be forced to turn to light-hitting utility man Garcia while they wait for Tatis. If Tatis struggles there, it might raise questions about whether he's better suited to play third base in the long run, which would leave the Padres with the same shortstop questions they've faced for the past decade.
There's also the matter of the left hamstring pull that sidelined Urias last September. He should be ready for Spring Training, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
A realistic prediction
Urias opens the season as the Padres' starting shortstop, though he could rotate to second base, allowing the lefty-hitting Garcia to face certain right-handed starting pitchers. For a month and a half, Urias is solid but unspectacular defensively before moving into a full-time role at second base.
Tatis earns his promotion by mid-May. He struggles out of the gate. After all, it took him a month or two in both 2017 and '18 to adjust to a higher level of competition before settling in as one of the Minors' best hitters.
The Padres stick with Tatis through those early struggles, and in the second half, he becomes the player San Diego has been waiting for. Tatis hits for power, for average, steals bases and showcases his incredible athleticism on defense. By season's end, Tatis is squarely in the debate for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. More importantly, he'll have finally filled the Padres' decade-long void at shortstop.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.