'I'm ready right now': Here's the plan for Tatis
SAN DIEGO -- The Padres eased Fernando Tatis Jr. into action this spring – and why not? Tatis was coming off surgeries to his left wrist and shoulder and isn't eligible to return from his PED suspension until April 20.
But as the team broke camp on Monday afternoon -- with Tatis remaining in Arizona and set to open the season at Triple-A El Paso -- this much seemed abundantly clear:
"I feel like I'm ready right now," said Tatis. "Just keep building up. But if it would've been go-day tomorrow, I would've been ready."
The end of Padres camp came with a bit of clarity for Tatis -- regarding his next step and regarding the team's plans for his return.
Tatis is permitted a 15-day Minor League stint before he's eligible to rejoin the big league club. He will begin the year at El Paso, then report to San Diego a few games before his suspension runs out (though he’d be unable to attend those games).
As for the Padres' lineup once he returns? After a spring's worth of batting-order speculation, manager Bob Melvin offered an answer on Monday:
"It feels really impactful with him leading off," Melvin said. "I know he's a guy that could be a middle-of-the-order guy, too, and knock in runs. And he enjoys doing that. But, man, it just feels like there's a special kind of impact that he has leading off."
If, indeed, Tatis is the team's preferred leadoff man, that would line up a top four that, on paper, looks like the most fearsome group in the big leagues:
1. Tatis, RF
2. Juan Soto, LF
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS
"It's the havoc he causes," Melvin said of Tatis in the leadoff spot. "It's the right-away for a pitcher, knowing you've got to face this guy to lead off the game. You've got to throw him strikes, or he's probably going to steal second. And he's got a lot of power on top of that, so he's a very unique player."
Melvin also acknowledged that his preference for Tatis in the leadoff spot is also a testament to Tatis’ health. If the Padres were concerned about his shoulder and wrist, it's possible they'd have batted him lower in the order, perhaps fourth, keeping him less active on the bases.
"Obviously we wanted to see how that went, once he was in games, on base and stealing bases," Melvin said. "It's part of his game. So I would hate to have to take that away. Physically -- knock on wood -- he's felt great the entire spring."
Indeed, Tatis has shown no ill effects of those surgeries. He's also made a seamless transition to right field, and Monday's Cactus League finale finally brought the moment he'd been waiting for -- the moment an opposing baserunner dared test his arm.
In the third inning, Mariners catcher Tom Murphy attempted to go first-to-third on a ground ball. Tatis delivered a one-hop strike to third base, to nail Murphy. From the top step, Melvin pointed across the diamond into the Seattle dugout, where Ichiro Suzuki – now a Mariners special advisor and once the owner of the sport’s most revered right-field cannon– evidently shrugged back at Melvin, “Like: Yeah.”
“That’s a special arm,” Melvin said. “A true hop. He’s really going to be excited about opportunities like that. Once you start throwing a few guys out, I’m not sure how many you’re going to get. But that was pretty exciting stuff.”
"I feel like everybody knew what I'm capable of in the outfield with my arm,” Tatis said. “And I feel like we saw it today."
Tatis appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself in right field, which seems to run in contrast to late-season 2021. Team officials have praised his investment in learning the intricacies of the position, touting a Gold Glove-caliber ceiling if Tatis can harness his tools.
At the plate, meanwhile, Tatis started the spring slowly, hitless in his first 16 at-bats. Then, he went on a tear, finishing the Cactus League 12-for-his-last-26 with a pair of homers. In short: He began to look like his old self at the plate again.
"Once he gets going, this guy's a premier athlete," said Melvin, who recalled managing against Tatis in the summer of 2021. "It's exciting to actually see it from this side."