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Fernando Tatis Jr. is back for the San Diego Padres and playing a new position.
The Padres phenom returned from the 10-day IL on Sunday and made the starting lineup, but not at shortstop, the only position he has played as a major leaguer. Instead, the Padres had him in right field while super-utility man Jake Cronenworth took shortstop.
It is the first time Tatis has played right field as a professional, including appearances in the majors, minors and Dominican winter league.
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) August 15, 2021
The change in position for Tatis had been reported to be in the works after he was seen shagging fly balls in the outfield and is likely intended to decrease his risk of re-injury.
Tatis had been out since July 30, when he dislocated his left shoulder on an awkward slide into third base. It was the second time he hit the IL with such an injury this season, and at least the fifth time his shoulder joint had popped out since mid-March, according to the count of the San Diego Union-Tribune's Kevin Acee.
While Tatis might have been wearing a new glove for Sunday, he was swinging the same bat that still has him leading the NL in home runs. He upped that count to 32 in his second plate appearance of the day.
— MLB (@MLB) August 15, 2021
And then to 33 one plate appearance later.
— MLB (@MLB) August 15, 2021
Tatis would eventually finish the game 4-for-5 with three runs and four RBIs. He was a triple short of the cycle.
If Tatis is still going to be hitting like he has this season, entering Sunday with a .292/.373/.651 line plus an NL-best 23 stolen bases, the Padres will take him any position they can get him.
Just how long will Fernando Tatis Jr. play outfield?
Tatis started in right field on Sunday. The question now is when he will next start at shortstop, and just how much of his career he will spend there.
Per Acee, Tatis is already facing the prospect of arthroscopic surgery in his left shoulder in the offseason, with an estimated recovery time of six months. Putting Tatis in right seems to be the Padres doing whatever they can to get his bat back in the lineup even at the risk of re-injury for their $340 million man. In the meantime, the team has both Cronenworth and Ha-Seong Kim to handle shortstop.
So Tatis' stint in right might be more of a temporary measure than a long-term change, though Acee has also reported that some in the Padres organization see a future in which Tatis is a full-time outfielder while top 10 prospect C.J. Abrams takes over at short.
To understand why the Padres would move the best offensive shortstop in baseball to a different position, you should understand two things. One, Abrams — currently MLB Pipeline's No. 6 overall prospect — really might be that good, and two, Tatis might not be as good at the position as many think.
You've probably seen some jaw-dropping plays from Tatis on defense. Few players have his combination of athleticism, baseball IQ and body control. Despite those gifts, he rates below average at shortstop in Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast's Outs Above Average metric and is tied for the MLB lead in errors committed at shortstop with 20.
If Abrams turns out to be a valuable player and a better defensive shortstop than Tatis, Sunday may be a peek at the superstar's defensive future.
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