Fernando Tatis Jr. cleared to begin baseball activities
San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. has been cleared to restart baseball activities this weekend, reports Dennis Lin of the Athletic. The organization anticipates he’ll be ready for Spring Training.

Tatis underwent a trio of surgeries in 2022. His season began with a procedure to repair a fracture in his left wrist that was identified when he reported to Spring Training. Tatis missed the first half of the year rehabbing. As he was on a minor league assignment to build back into game shape, MLB announced he’d been handed an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. Tatis had tested positive for the banned substance Clostebol.

That ended his 2022 season before it began. Tatis responded by going under the knife twice more, using his forced time out of action to correct other health concerns. First came surgery on the left shoulder that had given him trouble throughout the 2021 season, twice forcing him to the injured list. In mid-October, he had a follow-up procedure on his left wrist.

It’d have been hard to draw up a worse year for the 24-year-old, who hit .292/.369/.596 over his first three big league campaigns. He earned an All-Star nod and a pair of Silver Slugger awards. The Padres firmly committed to him as the face of the franchise over the 2020-21 offseason, signing him to a $340M extension that still stands as the fifth-largest deal in MLB history.

Whether Tatis can rediscover the form he showed through his first three seasons is one of the top questions facing a San Diego team with World Series aspirations. That he’s expected to be at full strength for the open of exhibition play is a promising start, although there will certainly be questions about his performance level coming off a year-long layoff and three surgeries.

Even though healthy, Tatis won’t be on the Opening Day roster. There are still 20 games remaining on his PED suspension, keeping him out of action until April 20 (assuming no postponements). Tatis is eligible to participate in Spring Training games during his ban, so he should have a few weeks to hit against upper level pitching in Cactus League play. That’ll be followed by another near-month absence to finish out his suspension.

Once eligible to play, there’s no question Tatis will be a regular in the lineup for skipper Bob Melvin. Precisely where he’ll line up is now up in the air. The presence of Ha-Seong Kim and signing of Xander Bogaerts give San Diego other options up the middle. Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth are penciled into the corner infield. Injuries can change the calculus, but Tatis is on track to spend the majority of his time in the outfield.

Trent Grisham is likely to be back in center field, although the club is at least open to trade possibilities there. Juan Soto has one corner outfield spot secured. After playing exclusively right field in 2022, Soto informed Padres officials he’s willing to man either corner outfield spot next season, Lin reports. Playing Tatis in the other corner opposite Soto would seem to be the plan on most days, though Tatis could bounce all around the diamond as other players take days off.

Melvin and the coaching staff will be tasked with sorting out the defensive possibilities. The more immediate concern is for Tatis to try and rediscover his early-career form at the plate. That’s a critical goal for the organization, as he’s under contract for another 12 seasons at a total of $324M (minus the approximate $800K he’ll forfeit while serving the remainder of his suspension).

This article first appeared on MLB Trade Rumors and was syndicated with permission.

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