FORT WAYNE, Ind. — In less than two months, Fort Wayne TinCaps’ shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. has emerged as one of the more exciting prospects in baseball at only 18.
Tatis, Jr., the son of former eleven-year major league veteran Fernando Tatis, signed with the Chicago White Sox in 2015 for $825,000 but was sent to the Padres as part of the salary dump trade of James Shields, along with RHP Erik Johnson.
At the time of the trade, Tatis, Jr. had yet to play a professional game for the White Sox, but San Diego’s General Manager A.J. Preller and his scouts had seen him play extensively as an amateur and were still on him at the back fields in Spring Training.
While Johnson got hurt and will miss this year with Tommy John surgery, it soon became apparent that the While Sox may not have been fully aware of what they were giving up. Last year in the rookie-level Arizona League, Tatis, Jr. hit .273/.312/.373 at only only 17 and showed a skill set that dazzled many evaluators.
In the offseason we ranked Tatis, Jr. as the organization’s #13 prospect, and with nearly two months into the season that looks too cautious. Coming into Sunday’s contest he was tied for second in the Low-A Midwest League in games played (40), tied for sixth in total bases (72), tied for ninth in home runs with six and RBI with 24 and tenth in stolen bases with nine.
After a slow start in April where he hit .230/.313/.345 he has been blazing hot in May posting a .352/.432/.648 line. He still makes a few too many errors in the field on routine plays - 13 in 36 games - and is striking out more than once a game (54 in 41 games), but there is an awful lot to like.
Tatis, Jr. is an elite five-tool talent competing against players three or four years older, and more than holding his own. It’s expected that San Diego will keep him in Fort Wayne for the full year and he has a chance to become the Padres’ first home grown shortstop since Khalil Greene; only with more upside.
MadFriars: First how are you feeling after the bad hop you took the other night?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: Thanks, I’m feeling good. The ball hit the runner’s leg and then it hit me right below the eye.
You didn’t have a bad Midwest League debut, but this month you are really putting up some numbers. What has changed?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: I think I got smarter at the plate and tried to not hit the ball out every time. I talked with my Dad and he told me to just take it easy, the home runs will come with a good swings. I try to stick to the middle of the field and its been working.
You have power to all fields.
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve been feeling good.
I always think that playing the middle infield is difficult when you are just starting out because there are so many games and you have to focus on each pitch. What have you been doing to improve your focus?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: I try to keep it simple. I know where I am going to be on every play because I grew up playing shortstop, so I feel comfortable.
Does it make it more comfortable since that has been the only position you have been playing as opposed to playing multiple infield positions last year in the AZL?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: Yes, it makes me feel even more comfortable. In the offseason I worked a lot on my footwork and backhands; so yes, I feel good.
I’ve heard this but wanted to ask you directly. When you signed with the Chicago White Sox, you were six feet, 150 pounds?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: Yes, that is correct.
You are now six-foot-three, 185?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: No, a little bigger. I’m six-foot-three, 200 pounds.
What did you eat?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: [laughs] That is what happens when you sign when you are 16 years old, you are still developing.
At that size have you noticed any difference in playing shortstop. Because you are taller now are you able to cover more ground and still have the same quickness?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: You can cover more ground, but you still have to be able to stay low and be quick enough to get to the ball. It’s like anything in baseball, its all about adjustments.
What was the biggest adjustment in coming to the Midwest League after last year in the AZL? Was it just the cold?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: The first time playing in the cold weather was tough because I felt like I couldn’t swing as hard as I could in the warm weather. The pitchers were different and better. Mainly I saw a lot more off-speed pitches, and had to make an adjustment to that.
Your manager Anthony Contreras said that you learned how to lay off the off-speed and breaking pitches out of the zone and force the pitchers to throw you more fastballs when you are ahead in the count.
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: I’ve been trying to stay small in the zone and use the big part of the field in the center.
Because both of you have the same name, everyone is always going to ask you about the influence that your father had had on your career.
I find when talking to many kids whose father’s played in the big leagues they didn’t have as much of an affect as one would believe because they were gone so much. Actually, their mother’s had more influence or they developed the baseball skills on their own.
What was your experience like?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: We travelled a lot and my Dad always wanted us close, so wherever he was, he wanted us there and we were there. My Dad was a real family guy, so I was always there too and it was amazing.
Your Dad was a switch-hitter right?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: At the beginning of his career when he was a minor leaguer.
Anytime we talk to the son of someone who played professional baseball their son always ends up batting left-handed. Why don’t you?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: [laughs] I liked it and I used to switch-hit too. After awhile my dad said no; let’s focus on just the right side and I would be a better hitter that way.
How often do you and your Dad talk?
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: We talk everyday about baseball and everything. He’s a really caring guy and wants to make sure that I am all right.
What are you trying to improve upon the most.
Fernando Tatis, Jr.: I just want to stay healthy. If I can stay healthy, I am going to have a good season.