During a rain-shortened series finale last night, the TinCaps crushed the Burlington Bees (LA Angels) 8-1 behind two home runs by Fernando Tatis Jr., including a grand slam in the top of the seventh.

The 18 year old shortstop’s continued success has oft made him the center of recent discussions by baseball pundits trying to rank the Padres’ system, even garnering him consideration for the top spot in the eyes of ESPN’s Keith Law.  Yet, it wasn’t that long ago that Tatis couldn’t even crack either the top 30 international prospect lists or the top 30 White Sox lists.

After coming over in the James Shields trade last season, Tatis had modest success both as a member of the Padres’ Arizona League team and the Tri-City Dust Devils, batting .273/.312/.426 at just age 17, which is hardly the type of performance that warrants attention from across the baseball landscape.  Nevertheless, A.J. Preller, who had to agree to eat $31 of the $58 million still owed to James Shields in order to acquire Tatis, has to be encouraged that the young shortstop has not only built upon that modest success, but burgeoned into a premier prospect.

Last week, I had an opportunity to sit down with Tatis at Parkview field to talk about his progression this season, in addition to his thoughts about Fort Wayne’s recent success and his own future.

Growing at the Plate

April was an underwhelming first month of the season for Tatis in which he hit a mere .230 and struck out in more than a third of his at-bats. Over the course of the following months, however, he showed steady improvement at the plate, hitting at a .275 clip and lowering his strikeout rate by over five percent through the All-Star Break.  “I have been working on my patience right now,” Tatis said.  “At the beginning of the season, I was striking out a lot, but now, I got my confidence and know what I have [opposing pitchers] are having, and I am just becoming very good right now.”

In addition to growing more comfortable at the level as the season has progressed, Tatis also mentioned that the All-Star Break was a meaningful time of growth, saying, “it was pretty fun being out there with a bunch of the Dominican guys that you said [Carlos Rincon and Vlad Guerrero Jr.] and to be out there with Bo Bichette.  We shared with each other our experience and all of that, and we had a lot of fun and became even better.”

Even though Tatis didn’t elaborate more than that on his experience at the All-Star Break, there’s little doubt that it was a pivotal time for him as he has transformed into an offensive monster since returning to the TinCaps, slashing a robust .361/.513/.852 with six home runs.

When players experience a power surge like that, it typically costs them points on the batting average or leads to more strikeouts and less walks, but that simply hasn’t been the case with Tatis, who has had a 1:1 BB/K ratio over the 19 games since the break.

Because of my analytical curiosity and his recent dominance, I was prompted ask him about the strategy he’s employed at the plate this year, referencing exit velocity and launch angle, and while he certainly didn’t knock that type of approach, he said, “I just go out and hit,” and look to drive the ball to the gaps and “allow the power to come.”

TinCaps Coming Together in the Second Half

Now, it’s not only been Tatis rolling since the All-Star Break as his poise and increased production has spurred his teammates onto a 13-7 second half record after the team spent the first half of the season as a cellar dweller.  “We are coming together,” Tatis said.  “I think we now have more experience together since the beginning of the season, so yeah, we’re just coming together and playing hard.”

That isn’t to say the turnaround has come without challenges, since fellow All Star Logan Allen and others were promoted to High-A Lake Elsinore, forcing the team to integrate young pitchers such as Michel Baez, Mason Thompson, and Reggie Lawson.  Despite the changes, Tatis expects the team to continue competing at a high level.  “You know we just push each other.  I don’t want to say that I’m the leader or all that, but I just want to push each other to keep grinding and to try and help each other.”

Looking Forward

Although Tatis never mentioned the possibility of a promotion this season, instead choosing to focus on the TinCap’s second half, it has to be on the organization’s mind over the next month or two.  This isn’t to say that Tatis needs be promoted this season, especially given the need for Javier Guerra to have regular playing time and the opportunity for Tatis to grow as a leader and competitor with Fort Wayne coming together; however, it’s always about the big picture when it comes to prospects.

Regardless, Tatis is focused on continuing to compete this season, offering up, “I just want to finish strong.  You know everybody wants to have a good average…wants to have a good amount of home runs and all that, but I just want to finish strong and play the game hard.”

He may still be a few years from San Diego, but as his game continues to grow more tantalizing, I would fully expect his name to trend towards the top of not just Top Padres’ Prospect lists but also league-wide ones.

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