The San Diego Padres currently have an opening in center field and it could be filled by one of the brightest young stars in all of baseball.
Now, it is not uncommon for teams to use spring training as an opportunity to give players time at a new position. There are a number of reasons teams do this.
Often, the purpose is to maximize flexibility for when injuries occur or for unique game circumstances. Other times, it is with the intent to move a player to a position full-time or to see if a player is even capable of such a move.
In the case of Fernando Tatis Jr. there are a number of reasons why center field reps make sense.
To help qualm some fears, I do not believe the Padres suddenly feel Tatis should be moved off of SS. He clearly has the athleticism, range, and arm strength to man such a premium position.
However, for all the same reasons he has the ability to roam center field at Petco.
Because shortstop is seen as a more premium position than center field, conventional wisdom suggests his value would be lessened in a move to center field.
So, why would the Padres be wanting a look at him in CF? I will explore several reasons why such an “exploration” makes sense and how the Padres could benefit.
Contingency Planning for Injuries
As mentioned earlier, one reason teams give players reps at other positions is so that they have a back up in the event of injuries. If a center fielder goes down and a need arises for Tatis to cover for a few innings or a few games, this gives the Padres some flexibility.
Should this occur, since Tatis is a starter, it also means placing someone else in the shortstop role. Perhaps the Padres feel Manny Machado, Greg Garcia, or Jake Cronenworth are capable at shortstop but would prefer not to trot them out in center field.
I believe this is the most likely reason why the Padres would want Tatis to be prepared to play center field.
There may be times where the Padres want to get Ty France in at third base and can slide Manny over to short. Or perhaps they want to get Cronenworth in at short and keep Tatis’ bat in the lineup.
Tatis’ ability to move to center gives the Padres plenty of lineup flexibility.
If Tatis proves capable in center field, there is the potential for additional flexibility when exploring the trade market for upgrades.
If the Padres want to upgrade center, they would have the flexibility to pursue not only center fielders, but also shortstop and third base as they can move Tatis to center field in a shortstop acquisition and Manny to shortstop and Tatis to center in a third base acquisition.
To be frank, I believe a third base acquisition, requiring Manny to move to shortstop, is much less likely than a shortstop acquisition.
However, having the flexibility gives the Padres a greater opportunity to be involved when such a player comes available.
In House Replacement Pressure
One final reason is that the Padres may need to start grooming Tatis for an eventual move to center field based on internal options that push the issue.
Gabriel Arias comes to mind here as he is considered an above-average arm with above-average range at shortstop.
His bat came alive in 2019 as a 19 year old in A+ ball. If that momentum continues into 2020 at Double-A, he could force his way into roster consideration and could be a better fielding option at shortstop over Tatis.
I don’t see any reason for fans to overreact here to the center field revelation. In the end, most likely it just means contingency planning and flexibility for the Padres – at least for 2020.