What do the San Diego Padres have in new left fielder, Fernando Tatis Jr.?

Apr 16, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. (23) in the dugout during the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. (23) in the dugout during the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /

August 12, 2022, was a stunning day in the history of the San Diego Padres. Major League Baseball announced superstar shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance, Clostebol.

Many felt his suspension would derail the Padres’ chances of securing a postseason berth. Thankfully for San Diego fans, that did not take place. Soon, Tatis Jr. will be given a second chance in his baseball career with the Friars. He is expected to be the team’s new starting left fielder in 2023.

San Diego Padres building something special

2022 was a successful season for the Padres. The team secured a postseason berth in a 162-game campaign for the first time since the 2006 season. Their run to the National League Championship Series included playoff defeats of two 100-win teams (the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers). But the season ended in Philadelphia as the Phillies eliminated the Friars in five games.

The Padres front office could have rested on their laurels by making small tweaks to the roster. Instead, they wanted to strengthen the team’s core and be aggressive in improving the lineup.
The Friars wanted to gain more athleticism in their corner outfield positions. The trade and free agent market offered very few options, so the Padres decided to move Tatis Jr. to left field. He is eager to step in and take on the challenge of playing a new position. The addition of Xander Bogaerts gave the Padres the luxury to move Tatis Jr., who has limited experience in the outfield.

Fernando Tatis Jr. takes his talents to the outfield in 2023

Tatis Jr. is a five-tool athlete who is blessed with speed and raw power, but he struggles to stay on the diamond due to a myriad of injuries in his major league career. Tatis Jr. has played in the outfield before. In 2021, he started 16 games in right field and seven games in center field while recovering from a shoulder injury that plagued him throughout the season. However, versatility might become his biggest ally in 2023.

The projected outfield alignment for the Padres is Tatis Jr. in left, Trent Grisham in center and Juan Soto in right. Each player has the skill set to track down balls hit into the gaps. It is a defensive alignment that allows Tatis Jr. to learn and become a competent defensive outfielder. Hopefully, he can return to being that player the Friar Faithful fondly remembers from a few years back.

In 2019, Tatis Jr. stormed onto the MLB scene. Quickly, he showed that his talents belonged in the Padres lineup by hitting .317 in 84 games. His best season was in 2021, as Tatis Jr. finished with a .282 average, 42 home runs and 97 RBI despite spending significant time on the IL.

Signing of Adam Engel is key to Friars success

If Tatis Jr. is going to play in the outfield, then an addition of a defensive caddy is needed on the roster. The Friars announced the signing of Adam Engel, whose primary role will be as the fourth outfielder. He can offer some speed as a pinch runner late in close games. Keep in mind, Engel could see time in the starting lineup while Tatis Jr. serves out the remainder of his suspension. He is not eligible to play until April 20.

But do not expect much production from Engel’s bat. He is a .225 career hitter in six seasons with the Chicago White Sox. The hope is his career defensive metrics continue with the occasional timely hit. If not, the Friar Faithful will question what the front office is doing.

It may feel like the Padres are playing a dangerous game by placing a novice in the outfield, but the mindset is to utilize the team’s window of opportunity to contend. The middle of the Friars lineup is in the prime of their careers. Machado is 30, Bogaerts is 30, Tatis Jr. is 24, and Soto is 24. It might be wise to sacrifice defense early in games to gain an offensive advantage that could result in a win for the Padres.

Currently, the Friar Faithful does not trust the franchise’s best young player. The negative feedback is justifiable as Tatis Jr.’s recent choices have been highly questionable. But it has been hard to replace his production in the lineup.

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The Padres committed a large amount of money (14 years, $340 million) to keep him in the fold for the remainder of his baseball career. Now is the time for Tatis Jr. to show why he had immediate big-league success. Making a successful transition to the outfield could pave the way for the Friars to participate in October baseball.