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Fernando Tatis Jr: Budding Star or Overvalued Too Soon?

Major League Baseball has seen a much-needed influx of bright young stars over the past two seasons, including Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. A third top prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr., also fits that description but seems to get less attention than the other two, probably due to playing for a small-market, west coast club.

The San Diego Padres and their fans, however, know the heights Tatis could reach after he authored a .317/.379/.590 (153 OPS+) season last year.

Tatis played just over half the season (more on that below), but still managed to club 22 homers while adding 53 RBI, 61 runs, 13 doubles, six triples, and 16 stolen bases. That was all before he could legally buy a beer. Heading into his age-21 season, Tatis is already one of the brightest stars in the game and is being drafted accordingly. He currently holds an average draft position (ADP) of 18th overall in NFBC drafts since July 1.

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But is Tatis worthy of that status after just 84 games above Double-A? Or will the abbreviated 2020 season be his stepping stone to superstardom throughout the next decade? Let's break it down.


Prospect Pedigree

Tatis has been one of the top prospects in baseball for some time. Signed by the White Sox as an international free agent when he was just 16, Tatis was traded to San Diego before playing a professional game. Since then, he has anchored a farm system that has been ranked among the best in baseball for what feels like an eternity considering San Diego hasn't done much at the Major League level while hoarding those prospects.

Tatis mashed throughout the Minor Leagues, posting double-digit homers and steals in both of his full seasons in Single A and Double-A. His rate stats were just as impressive posting slugging percentages over .500 in both seasons.

Last season in the Majors, we finally got some Statcast data on the youngster and his metrics backed up what the scouts were hyping.

As we can see, Tatis ranked in the top-10 percent of the league in sprint speed and barrel percentage (13.2%) while also being well above-average in exit velocity (90.4 MPH) and hard-hit rate (44.1%). When he makes contact, it is usually productive based on these numbers.

However, these numbers also show Tatis' one glaring weakness: He strikes out way too much, especially for a guy that the Padres expect to occupy the leadoff spot.

Tatis seemed to struggle against offspeed pitches in his first taste of the Majors. He batted just .253 vs breaking pitches and .191 vs changeups last season, according to BaseballSavant. Not surprisingly, he had a below-average 31.9 percent swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone. He'll need to improve in that regard to take the next step to stardom, but it is also an opportunity to take a glass-half-full approach with Tatis.

Tatis batted .317 last season while striking out 29.6 percent of the time. Sure his average was inflated a little by a .410 BABIP, but that isn't as outrageous as it appears given his elite speed and how hard he hits the ball. Expect him to be more selective in his second taste of Major League pitching, and if he can take that next step in his development, a .300 BA should be his floor throughout his prime years.


Playing Time Concerns

The main issue Tatis faces when justifying his lofty ADP would be injuries. As a general rule, I don't penalize players for missing time due to injury when evaluating them the next season. That being said, Tatis' aggressive style of play could put him at a higher risk of injury, as it did last season.

Tatis missed multiple stretches last season. He missed time from late April through early June with a strained hamstring that he suffered while stretching for a ball at second base. His season was ended in mid-August thanks to a back injury that felt like it was bound to happen eventually given how often he dives for balls in the field and his aggressive style of baserunning.

The Padres said that they don't want to limit Tatis' aggressiveness; playing as hard as he does is what turns doubles into triples and affords additional bases. You have to take the bad with the good with young players as his aggressiveness leads to the elite production that we detailed earlier. Still, it's something fantasy managers need to keep in mind when considering Tatis with an early-round pick.

Overall though, Tatis can't be considered significantly higher of an injury risk than most players. He is still just 21 years old and said that he plans on playing all 60 games this season, whereas older players may need a day off here or there. The DH coming to the National League could help as well, because if he does get banged up at some point, the Padres could keep his bat in the lineup while providing half a day off.



Tatis is one of the brightest young stars in the game and should put up elite numbers in his sophomore campaign. RotoBaller projections (below) have his average taking a bit of a dip, but he should score plenty of runs leading off for a sneaky-good Padres lineup while being one of only a handful of players projected to put up double-digit home runs and steals.

Last season, Tatis was one of just 11 players to hit at least 22 homers and steal 16 bases; the 10 other players to reach those marks all had at least 140 more at-bats. Tatis is a slam-dunk five-category contributor who could be drafted as early as the end of round 1, as he was in our most recent RotoBaller expert's mock draft.

Any player could get hurt, but very few could match the numbers he could put up. In a shortened season, Tatis' upside is well worth any risk associated with him. If he plays most of the season, Tatis is a potential MVP candidate and a worthy early-round pick to build your fantasy team around.

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