Turns out that starting your best players is good.
If it weren’t for Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado taking Padres owner Ron Fowler out to dinner, Fernando Tatís Jr. likely would have begun the year in Triple-A. The rules for service time are so skewed in the teams’ favor that all the Padres would have had to do is keep Tatís down until about now, and they would have gotten another year out of him. A player needs to spend 172 days of 187 on the major league roster to get a year of service time.
Even with the addition of Machado and the call-ups of Nick Margevicius and Chris Paddack, the Padres didn’t figure to be competitive. They could have afforded to be without their top prospect for a couple weeks.
Tatís’s promotion—in addition to Pete Alonso’s—was a welcome surprise at the beginning of the season, and it’s a decision that has paid off for San Diego.
In the brief time that Tatís could have spent in the minors, he’s rewarded the Padres with five homers in 19 games. He’s slashed .294/.355/.574 for a 144 wRC+. Seven of his 46 batted balls have been barreled and his hard-hit rate is a well above average 43.5 percent.
That’s come with a 30.3 strikeout percentage and a .366 BABIP, so his numbers are likely to come down a bit. Regardless, Tatís has proven he can handle major league pitching. Even in the worst case he struggles at the plate, he can provide value with his other tools.
His defense has been as good as advertised. DRS and UZR are both impressed in an extremely small sample, and he has certainly passed the eyeball test.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
You already know about the power, but how about this defense?pic.twitter.com/d9Z8TG8fND
— Sporting News MLB (@sn_mlb) April 12, 2019
It would have been hard for the Padres to use the “He needs to work on his defense” excuse with Tatís. That’s already a flimsy excuse for guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. where defense actually is a concern. What is a player going to learn in two weeks in the minors that he couldn’t in the majors?
The Padres and Mets took a stand against service time manipulation, but so far, it hasn’t pressured other teams not to exploit an easily exploitable system. The Reds have kept Nick Senzel down at the beginning of the year, and the Vlad Jr. is still playing in minor league parks that can’t contain his massive dingers.
It’s certainly possible that the only reason the Padres added Tatís to the Opening Day roster is that they were confident they could extend him. According to the Athletic’s Dennis Lin, there haven’t been discussions of an extension yet though there is mutual interest.
Whatever happens, he’s been a major part of why the Padres got off to a great start. They hit a snag this week, but their hopes of being a surprise Wild Card contender haven’t been dashed yet. Tatís’s presence hasn’t only made the Padres better, he’s made baseball better as well.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.