The San Diego Padres have long been an afterthought in the world of Major League Baseball. Prior to 2020, they hadn’t made the playoffs since 2006 when they lost in the NLDS to the eventual world champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. After enduring a long rebuild, the Padres have been able to create the best farm system in the league. As San Diego brought themselves back into the fold as one of the best teams in the sport, the centerpiece of the team has been the Padres’ bright young star, Fernando Tatis Jr.
Tatis has quickly become one of baseball’s biggest young stars. Everything he does, from hitting, playing defense, and his swag have made him one of baseball’s newest icons. With how his first two seasons in the big leagues have gone, he is projecting not just to be a future MVP, but the potential to be a future Hall of Famer.
Tatis Jr. is the son of former Major Leaguer Fernando Tatis Sr. and although Sr. wasn’t a superstar player like his son is, he is notable for being the only player to hit two grand slams in the same inning. Jr. has always been viewed as a prospect with the potential to be a franchise player and he has so far lived up to the hype. He was originally signed as an international free agent by the Chicago White Sox in 2015. Before he had even played a professional game, he was traded to the San Diego Padres in exchange for former all-star pitcher James Shields.
Tatis’ impact in the minor leagues became known very quickly and after only one season he had already become one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball. Entering 2019, he was ranked as the #2 prospect and was projected by many to be the NL Rookie Of The Year winner, and if not, definitely a contender.
On March 26, 2019, the Padres announced that Tatis was being added to the Opening Day roster and would be the starting shortstop on Opening Day against the San Francisco Giants. In his major league debut on March 28, he recorded his first two career hits. His first hit came in his very first Major League at-bat when he hit a single off of Madison Bumgarner. His first career home run was a 2-run home run that came four days later on April 1st against Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitcher Merril Kelly.
Tatis continued his torrid pace and was living up to all the hype he was receiving as a prospect. However as good as he was going, he faced some difficulties along the way. In the 10th inning of an eventual 7-6, 11-inning loss to the Washington Nationals, Tatis made a long stretch to catch a ball being thrown to him after a bunt attempt and although he made the catch, he had pulled his foot off the base and the runner was ruled safe. But more importantly, he had stretched himself more than his body was able to take and he ended up doing full-on splits, causing him to pull his hamstring and have to exit the game.
Tatis would miss the entire month of May and would return to the Padres in early June. He got back right where he left off and it seemed everything had gone back to running smoothly. It was becoming more obvious that Tatis was a significant part of the Padres’ lineup since whenever he was present, the team was performing. As the Padres picked momentum back up, they quickly slowed down. On August 16, Tatis injured himself yet again, this time he suffered from back spasms after taking an odd-looking swing during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tatis would go on to miss the remainder of the 2019 season and the Padres fell back to the bottom of the NL West division after spending most of the season in contention for a potential wild card berth. Tatis’ rookie season did not go unnoticed as he finished the year with 106 hits, 22 home runs, 53 RBIs, and a slash line of .317/.379/.590 in 84 games. All of this led to Tatis being awarded third place in the Rookie of the Year voting.
In his sophomore season in 2020, Tatis not only continued where he left off from 2019 but he effectively single-handily helped bring the Padres back into the fold as one of baseball’s must-watch teams. For the first half of the 2020 season, Tatis was the front runner for NL MVP and he was named the “NL Player of the Month” for August 2020. Tatis being able to remain healthy for the full season and the fact he was able to play in in 59 of the 60 games showed just how much of an impact player he can be.
Though he had a big slump to end the year, Tatis became a must-watch player for everything he did, with the most notable being when he broke an “unwritten rule” by hitting a grand slam on a 3-0 count against the Texas Rangers while already ahead by 7 runs. Tatis chose not to take the heat being sent his way and fully embraced it.
He led the Padres in dugout dance parties whenever a player would hit a home run and wasn’t afraid to give a bat-flip after a home run. He brought so much swagger and flair to baseball in a time where it desperately needed players who would do so. All of this led to Tatis helping the Padres to their first playoff appearance in 14 years. Tatis himself helped the Padres survive against the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild card round by hitting a crucial 3-run home run to lead to a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
Though the Padres would be swept in the following round by division rival, and eventual World Series champions, Los Angeles Dodgers, Tatis looks like the player that could one day help the Padres overcome the mighty Dodgers, and help bring the first World Series Title to San Diego.