Fernando Tatis Jr. did not start the 2021 season out well. After an offseason of unending hype and a massive new contract from the San Diego Padres, he limped out of the gate. Despite some fits and starts, Tatis is now living up to the billing and back to dominating Major League Baseball like few can.
Tatis reaggravated a shoulder injury early in the year, then had to sit out 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19. As a result, he's missed 17 of the Padres' 55 games this season. Despite that, on Monday he launched his 16th home run of the year, tying Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Adolis Garcia for the MLB lead.
As of that home run, Tatis had 38 fewer at bats than Garcia and 50 fewer than Guerrero.
That's pretty remarkable, especially considering his left shoulder will be injured for the rest of the season until he (almost certainly) undergoes offseason surgery. Even with an injured shoulder, he's crushing the ball. Tatis is currently hitting .299, with 16 home runs, 37 RBIs and an OPS of 1.091. When he qualifies, he'll be leading MLB in OPS and slugging percentage (.708) and is tied for second in stolen bases (12). His on-base percentage of .383 will rank in the top 10 in the National League as well.
He has also regularly come through in the clutch. Case-in point, on Saturday against the Houston Astros, the Padres trailed 6-3 with two outs in the ninth and two on. Tatis tied the game with an absolute monster home run.
And, quite frankly, when you hit a home run like that, in that spot, you should feel completely comfortable taking all the time you want to admire your work.
If that power isn't enough, he also pulled off this wizardry on Monday:
At the plate, Tatis has been among the best players in baseball this season. His only issues have come in the field, where he's committed a MLB-high 14 errors. After 10 errors in an awful April, he cut it down to four in May. The issue is almost exclusive to his throwing, where his aim has been off. He has a cannon and when he's inaccurate it becomes even harder for a first baseman to dig the ball at the kind of velocity he's capable of. Padres infield coach Bobby Dickerson thinks the throwing issues are completely fixable. The 22-year-old is apparently not getting his legs under him on every throw, leading to some errant tosses.
Tatis' defensive woes are all the more shocking because of how good his was in the field in 2020. Based on several metrics, Tatis was one of the best fielders in baseball last season. He led the majors in Outs Above Average (7) and only committed three errors all season. He also regularly makes incredible plays, like when he combined with Jake Cronenworth for this electric double play a few weeks ago.
Given his athleticism, arm and his previous success, it's not hard to think these defensive issues are a hiccup that can be ironed out. And if he fixes them, he's basically the Mike Trout of infielders -- a future all-time great living up to immense expectations every step of the way.
Again, Tatis is exceptionally young and has had so much hype surrounding him you'd be justified in assuming he couldn't possibly live up to it. This kid was anointed the face of baseball at 21 and is at the forefront of a movement to make the game fun again. Despite having all that on his shoulders, he's thriving.
Tatis Jr. is unique, he's special and he's only going to get better.