MadFriars’ Player of the Year: Fernando Tatis, Jr.
SAN DIEGO — Fernando Tatis Jr. entered the 2017 season campaign as an intriguing 18-year-old shortstop with big-league bloodlines. He will finish the year as one of the top prospects in all of baseball heading into the 2018 season.
The talented infielder is the 2017 MadFriars Player of the Year, capping off a campaign where hit .278/.379/.498 between Low-A Fort Wayne and Double-A San Antonio. Tatis Jr. showed a rare blend of power, speed and athleticism. The overall dominance he displayed in Fort Wayne hasn’t been seen since Sean Burroughs way back in 1999. Tatis Jr. also became the face of a minor league system that ranks among the best in baseball and perhaps more importantly, he has given hope to a fanbase that is desperate for a winner.
“Before the season, if you said that that guy is gonna put up those kind of numbers, you’d be like ‘nah I don’t think so,’ so it is kinda crazy. And for him to finish up the year in Double-A in a playoff hunt is pretty special,” said Chris Kemp, the Padres Director of International Scouting.
His season did not get off to a promising start, as the infielder hit just .230/.313/.345 in April, where the weather in the Midwest League can be cold and snowy. As the weather began to heat up, so did Tatis’ bat. He hit four home runs in May and five more in June. He also improved his walk rate while reducing his strikeout percentage each month in the Summit City.
“Me and my hitting coaches [in Fort Wayne] worked on staying small in the zone and trying to get your pitch and if it is not your pitch, you let it go by,” said Fernando Tatis Jr., prior to playing in the Padres On Deck Game at Petco Park on September 30.
Defensively, there has been talk of Tatis moving to third base as he continues to fill out. However, the organization seems keen on leaving him at shortstop. For what it’s worth, most who have observed him believe he can stick at shortstop.
“Can he play short in the major leagues? Absolutely, I think. Will he end his MLB career there? I don’t know. But that’s a long way off, and in my opinion, a waste of time to wonder about right now,” says John Nolan, the play-by-play voice of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. “People need to move from this idea that someone who’s 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 are too big to be a shortstop. Check the numbers. Major League shortstops, including some of the best in the game like [Carlos] Correa, [Corey] Seager, and [Didi] Gregorious, are taller than ever.”
Tatis’ accomplishments for the TinCaps were staggering: he set a Fort Wayne record with 21 homers, he stole 29 bases, his .520 slugging percentage was second in the league and his 75 walks led the league. While all the offensive statistics speak for themselves, Tatis still has an eye on reducing his strikeouts.
“This year [the strikeouts] were a very big deal — everyone was talking about it. My first half was not very good but then I was learning and then in the second half, I was very close to equal 50/50 [walks and strikeouts]. The first half, I can’t erase it but I am glad it happened and I can learn from it and be even better.”
His ability to make adjustments and improve was a recurring theme throughout the season. Tatis was the catalyst in the resurgence of the TinCaps, helping them make the playoffs after a miserable first half. The squad went 42-28 in the second half, in large part to Tatis. He had a slash line of .311/.458/.650 down the stretch before a surprising promotion to San Antonio, just before the Midwest League playoffs started.
“It was good [to be promoted]. It was [good] being part of a team. And yeah, I was surprised. I really didn’t want to go but it’s not my decision. But this is baseball and I gotta keep moving on. When I got called up [to San Antonio] I got surprised and I got happy with it.”
In San Antonio, Tatis got off to a slow start before righting the ship in the playoffs. In a five-game series Texas League semi-final against the eventual champions Midland RockHounds, Tatis posted a .350 batting average, and homered in a Game 5 loss. While the Texas League is a far cry from the pressures of the major leagues, it is an indication that the top prospect can thrive in pressure situations.
As the 2018 season approaches, most baseball publications should feature Tatis ranked amongst the best prospects in the game. It doesn’t seem to faze the young infielder.
[“It’s] no pressure at all. It just motivates me even more because I got to bring it every day and people are expecting it.”
Tatis Jr. will likely be the focus of next year’s minor league season in the San Diego system. Fans and media alike will look to him as a symbol of hope and perhaps the next face of the franchise. While it would be easy for a teenager to feel added pressure, it is not something that seems to be on Tatis’ mind.
“I have been trying not to worry about that. I have been working hard. People say that I am only 18 but I don’t play this game like an 18-year-old. I’d say I work harder than an 18-year-old. But I really focus on my job and trying to do the best for my team.”
As an amazing 2017 season concludes for Tatis, he gave San Diego fans a glimpse into the future, going 2-for-4 in the Padres’ On Deck Game, where he swatted a single to left and nearly homered to the opposite field, towards the Petco Park porch.
“It’s a little bit tough because you only have one chance in a year to show something here and bring it and being with your teammates and yeah, it’s definitely hard but I think I showed something out there.
When reflecting on a wildly successful 2017 campaign, Tatis reflected on what he hopes to accomplish for a very pivotal 2018 season.
“Trying to stay healthy [is] number one so I can do everything and [to] work hard this offseason so I can be better.
Kevin Charity is a contributor to Fox Sports San Diego and you can follow him at MadFriars.com.
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