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Fernando Tatis Jr. Should Stay in the Outfield

Fernando Tatis Jr. recently returned from the IL due to yet another shoulder injury. He needs surgery, but the issue isn’t bad enough that he can’t play through it with regular rehabilitation and proper rest. His nagging left shoulder will also be treated by moving him from shortstop to the outfield (he’s played right field in his last two games). The Padres are likely hoping to have Tatis Jr. healthy for the rest of the season, then explore their options with him and his shoulder during the offseason.

If I’m the San Diego Padres, I make a strong pitch for him to stay in the outfield.

The Necessary Tools

Fernando Tatis Jr. has plenty of speed and a strong arm. He’s an elite athlete: possibly the best the game has to offer. The two positions this skillset makes the most sense for are shortstop and center field. Why not move him to center beginning next season?

He’s playing RF so far, as stated previously. It’s not fair to thrust a guy with zero outfield experience at any professional level into the most difficult position out there, so this makes sense. You have a vast expanse of ground to cover in CF, which requires precise jumps and proper running form that stabilizes the ball as you track it (you don’t want the ball to be “bouncing” as you chase after it). Athleticism is key, to be sure, but there are specific skills that must be learned in order to be a good center fielder, no matter how good of an athlete someone is.

Can Fernando Tatis Jr. learn? I think he absolutely can. He has Gold Glove-caliber outfield defense in him, with proper mentorship.

What are the Padres Losing?

It’s tough to find a franchise cornerstone shortstop. Tatis Jr. is that and more, as he has ascended to MVP levels. When you look deeper, though, it’s easy to see why. It’s because of his bat and his legs. It is NOT because of his glove.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is not a good defensive shortstop. He is tied for the Major League lead in errors, with 20. This is despite playing just 83 games at short so far due to multiple shoulder tweaks that required IL-stints. He made 18 errors in a similar amount of time in 2019. He’s on the 38th percentile in terms of Outs Above Average. Tatis Jr. can certainly make the spectacular play. But overall, he’s not that great of a defender at shortstop. Sorry.

The Padres would not be losing much of anything in terms of defense if they moved their star shortstop to center. CF is also a premium position, so his elite bat would hold similar value (more so than if he played RF/LF long-term). They are moving an offensive juggernaut to a position that both preserves his shoulder and, possibly, gives him an opportunity to be an asset on defense, as opposed to a liability.

Sounds good to me.

Maybe Don’t Dive, Though…

The Padres may think the outfield will be safer for Fernando Tatis Jr.’s shoulder, but it won’t eliminate any danger. Line drives in the gap. Bloopers down the line. Home runs that barely clear the wall. All of these plays often require full extension, something that specifically hurts his shoulder.

So…maybe they should just tell him to not do anything crazy. Make the routine play. Try not to dive too much. Fernando Tatis Jr. needs to be healthy if the Padres are to stand a chance against their interdivisional rivals in the Giants and Dodgers.