Fort Wayne TinCaps shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.'s successes and failures tend to be magnified because of his familiar name.
Call it a blessing and a curse to be the son of a former Major Leaguer, but he'll never just be another Class A player in the crowd.
Tatis is only 18, but says he feels older.
“He's going through things right now that most kids don't go through,” TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said. “Put on top of that the recognition and the spotlight. It's a lot to carry on your shoulders. A lot of people have high expectations for him in whole organization.”
It's a credit to Tatis' mental toughness that he has thrived enough to be a Midwest League All-Star, along with TinCaps pitcher Logan Allen and outfielder Jorge Ona. Tatis, who has eight home runs this season, was picked to participate in the Monday's Midwest League Home Run Derby at Midland, Mich. The game is 7:05 p.m. Tuesday.
“I've been learning a lot in my first full season,” Tatis said. “I'm seeing the reality of baseball. You have struggles. You have ups and downs. I've learned a lot and I just have to keep the grind every day.”
Tatis seems to mix the grind with the sublime. He's capable of spectacular plays – his diving catch on May 31 and leaping catch on June 7 both made ESPN's Top 10 plays, no easy feat for a minor leaguer, especially at one of the lower levels.
— MiLB.com (@MiLB) June 14, 2017
“If you listen to it closely, once they say his name, they're drawn to him having a big-league father,” Contreras said. “That's catching people's attention. The Padres are doing things to promote him. It's a lot. I brought him into the office to see how it's going. I told him, 'I have no idea how it feels for you.”
Tatis's father, Fernando Tatis Sr., played 11 seasons with Texas, St. Louis, Montreal, Baltimore and the New York Mets. He hit .265 with 113 career home runs. His best season came in 1999, when he hit 34 homers with 107 RBIs while batting .298 for the Cardinals. He broke into the majors in 1997 and last played in 2010.
Tatis Jr. had the benefit of being around a Major League locker room when he was younger, soaking in the atmosphere and seeing the dedication necessary to succeed.
When he started the season, he was more of a free swinger, Tatis Jr. said, but he has become more patient as the season progressed.
“I'm trying not to do too much and learn from what my hitting coach is telling me every day,” Tatis Jr. said. “I have to keep my routine, keep focused over there. I feel way stronger and have more experience now. I think the second half is going to be more fun.”
Contreras moved Tatis to the leadoff spot in the lineup and that allowed him to become more patient and also see more pitches. Subsequently, he's seen a few more fastballs. Tatis is hitting .261 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs.
“From the start of the season he's had to work on his discipline at the plate, but he's starting to realize what professional pitching is about at this level,” Contreras said. “Having the spotlight on him and the recognition he's got, he understands he's kind of a target. They're not going to give him anything to hit. The more patient he can be, the more fastballs he'll get eventually.”
While Tatis has made ESPN twice for plays at shortstop, Contreras said his hitting is ahead of his fielding so far. Tatis can make the incredible plays. He has room to grow in his ability to remain dialed into the situation and to be mentally ready for the next play.
“A lot of it is upstairs in his head,” Contreras said. “Can you lock it in every pitch? Can you be ready to go? Are you adjusting, according to the pitcher, the hitter, the score, what's been going on in the game? Those little things will develop as he gets more experience.
“You see he wants to improve in how he's asking questions. He's a smart kid. He knows baseball. Those little things will take his talent to another level.”
His father, who lives in the Dominican Republic, was in Fort Wayne to watch recently.
“It was fun,” Tatis Jr. said. “It picked me up and helped me. And I was able to send him home with a home run, so that was a special part.”