Manny Machado is the new headliner in San Diego, but he's happy to move over and make room for FERNANDO TATIS JR.
AS THE BALL flew into the warm January night in San Pedro de Macoris, Fernando Tatis Jr. took one step, then two out of the batter's box. The Padres' shortstop of the future had made a winner of his Dominican Winter League team with a walk-off, three-run homer in a playoff game, sending his hometown crowd into a frenzy and his teammates streaming onto the field. Putting both hands on the knob of his bat, Tatis chucked it sky-high before skipping around the bases, screaming with joy. "I felt so happy for him," recalls the manager of the victorious Estrellas Orientales, Fernando Tatís Sr. "I don't think anybody cared if he's flipping a bat to the moon or something."
San Diego hopes that moment was just a preview from the prospect ranked No. 2 by both Baseball America and MLB.com. The 20-year-old son of the longtime MLB utility man, Tatis stands 6' 3," weighs 185 pounds and looks more similar to Manny Machado—who had nearly those same measurements as a rookie—than to his contact-hitting dad. He is, quite literally, not your father's Fernando Tatís.
But for all his bravado, Tatis Jr. is still susceptible to goose bumps. That's what happened over dinner at Mastro's Steakhouse during All-Star week in D.C. last July, when he got to meet one of his idols: Machado. The players, who are both represented by Dan Lozano, spent three hours talking shop and by night's end had swapped numbers.
Soon they won't need to text each other to stay in touch. In February, Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with San Diego. His next move was just as surprising: In deference to Tatis, he gave up his preference to play shortstop and moved back to third. "He's a beast," Machado said of Tatis. "He reminds me of myself when I was 19 years old and got called up. He can do it all."
Tatis says that the gesture blew him away. "I'm not gonna lie, that makes me feel special." he says. "That means I've got to work even more."
With Machado, 26, joining him on the left side of the infield, the future in San Diego looks sunny. The Padres have the game's most loaded farm system: Nine of their prospects made Baseball America's latest Top 100 list, the most in MLB. Machado is ready for that youth movement to begin now, lobbying hard for Tatis—who has yet to play above Double A—to make the Opening Day roster. "If he's in there, we're going to be a dangerous team," Machado told reporters after his first spring game.
Tatis says he has little use for baseball's stodgy unwritten rules—and plans on making the Padres both good and exciting, which is fine with his dad. During his 13-year career, Tatís Sr. followed a single rule: "Never disrespect anybody." He didn't once loft lumber in 3,468 plate appearances—including after hitting his second grand slam in the same inning in 1999—but he's happy to see a new generation show so much passion. "They're going to bring more to this game," says Tatís Sr., who retired in 2010. "The game cannot stay one way. You've got to make it better. You've got to make the fans watch more."
His son agrees. "It's going to keep evolving," Tatis Jr. says, with a smile. "Bat flips are going to be legal."