SAN FRANCISCO -- At age 22, Fernando Tatis Jr. has accomplished an awful lot as a ballplayer. This weekend, he will check another box: He'll complete his first full, qualifying 162-game season in the big leagues.
It has been quite a roller coaster for Tatis. He signed a 14-year mega-contract. He persevered through multiple shoulder injuries. He posted MVP-caliber numbers. He switched positions. He endured a late-season collapse that saw the Padres plummet from playoff contention.
"A really long year," Tatis said with a laugh. "… I'm just really proud of myself, how I've held myself accountable, going through all the struggles I went through this year."
On Friday, as the Padres opened their final regular-season series of the year, Tatis met with media members to recap all aspects of his 2021 campaign -- from his balky shoulder to his positional preference to his chase for the National League MVP.
Here are the highlights:
Tatis would prefer to avoid surgery
On at least four occasions this year, Tatis has suffered a partial dislocation of his left shoulder. With each of those dislocations, a further dislocation becomes more likely.
Tatis could solve that issue with shoulder surgery that would require a four to six months of recovery time. But on Friday, Tatis reiterated his preference to avoid surgery entirely.
"We'll have a sit down with [general manager A.J. Preller] and the doctors, but I feel like everybody's in a positive way with not taking the surgery,” Tatis said. “But we'll see. I feel like I'm in a great spot. My shoulder is in a great spot. I feel very secure with where I'm at right now."
Presently, Tatis has is doing regular strengthening exercises on that shoulder, and the Padres have reiterated how pleased they are with its current state. That said, they've also been very cautious with Tatis, having moved him to the outfield in August in an effort to avoid further injury.
Tatis is a shortstop
Tatis played 24 games in the outfield in August and September, with the team believing his shoulder was at lower risk there. (Less action, more time to make decisions.) Aside from one very costly error in St. Louis, Tatis was solid defensively in the outfield.
Considering some of his early season struggles at shortstop -- and the fact that the Padres have a wealth of other shortstop options, including top prospect CJ Abrams -- it raised questions about whether Tatis might be best suited as an outfielder in the long-term.
"I feel like me and A.J. have already put that conversation down," Tatis said. "He signed a shortstop, and he's going to have a shortstop. That's the plan so far. I'm not planning on moving for a very long time from there."
Sounds like Tatis and the Padres are on the same page. They view Tatis as a much better shortstop than his National League-leading 21 errors would indicate. They cite his range and the fact that most of his errors came early in the year. Indeed, Tatis has been much steadier defensively as the season has progressed.
"I anticipate him going into the offseason preparing to play shortstop," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said.
An MVP candidate
Tatis was asked to make his own MVP case on Friday afternoon. Clearly, he wasn't all that interested in doing so.
After giving a trademark laugh, Tatis said, "I feel like the numbers will just speak for themselves -- what I did this year with the passion I did it with."
Indeed, the numbers speak volumes. Tatis leads the National League with 42 homers, and he has been worth 6.6 bWAR, ranking second behind only Washington's Juan Soto. He entered play Friday night with a slash line of .281/.365/.614 -- patently absurd for a primary shortstop who also swiped 25 bags (and would've had more if he hadn't cut back on the basepaths to preserve his shoulder).
“I know my opinion on it,” Tingler said. “He has been the most valuable player in the league. … Missing quite a few games with IL stints and still having the numbers, the production, the special type of player that he is -- to even be mentioned in the top three, and quite frankly should and could win the MVP, I think that speaks to his talent and ability.”
‘A dagger to the heart’
When Tatis dislocated his shoulder sliding into third base on July 30, the Padres led the NL Wild Card race by 5 1/2 games and were squarely in the mix for the division title. Turns out, that day -- the very same day that the Padres failed to add starting pitching at the Trade Deadline -- marked the beginning of the end.
"It's been really hard," Tatis said. "Us not making the playoffs, it was just a dagger straight to the heart, especially with the type of team we had."
To cap his interview, Tatis made one thing clear. By now, he's a 40-home run hitter. He’s almost certain to become the team’s first NL home run king since Fred McGriff in 1992. He could become the first Padre to win an MVP Award since Ken Caminiti in 1996. So what's the next thing he wants to accomplish?
"A World Series," Tatis said. "The ultimate goal. That's the one at the top. That's the one that great players reach."