Fernando Tatís Jr is arguably the most-exciting young player in the game. He’s certainly gotten off to a rousing start. Through his first 55 games with the San Diego Padres, the 20-year-old shortstop is slashing .327/.393/.620, with 14 home runs, a 162 wRC+, and 13 stolen bases. Twice he’s scored on a sacrifice fly that was caught by the second baseman. Defensively, his range and his arm have both elicited oohs and aahs from what is becoming an increasingly-invigorated Padres fanbase.
The conversation that follows is focused entirely on the young man’s approach to hitting. He’s learned his lessons well — primarily from his father, former big-league infielder Fernando Tatis — but at the same time, his M.O. at the plate is straightforward. Tatis likes to keep things simple, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Given the numbers he’s been putting up, why should it?
David Laurila: Is hitting simple, or is it complicated?
Fernando Tatis: “It’s complicated if you want it to be. I think if you take it as simple as possible, you can be more consistent every day. People make it complicated when they start doing a lot of stuff — when you start doing a lot of stuff to your mind; when you think you’re doing this, you’re doing that. For me, a big thing is to remember that I’m playing baseball. I’m just a kid playing in a park. Yes, I have to make adjustments sometimes, but as simple as I can be at the plate is way better.”
Laurila: Are you basically hunting fastballs?
Tatis: “I’m always looking fastballs. I don’t want it to sound like hitting is that easy. Don’t get me wrong. Hitting is not easy. But again, as simple as I can make it is way better.”
Laurila: How do you go about recognizing breaking pitches? Is it mostly a matter of reps?
Tatis: “More reps will be better for you, but for me, recognizing breaking balls is … a big part is when you’re looking for his fastball, you forget about everything down. If you see spin up, those are the good ones to hit. The ones down are going to be hard.”
Laurila: It’s been said that the best way to hit a tough breaking ball is to hit the fastball.
Tatis: “Yes. That’s pretty accurate.”
Laurila: I think I know the answer to this, but do you view hitting as more of an art or as more of a science?
Tatis: “It’s more of an art. You’ve got to enjoy it. You’ve got to be yourself. I don’t really look at [the analytic aspect]. I just like to see how hard I hit the ball. I mean, sometimes I need to see things when I’m struggling, but after that I’m basically just doing my stuff.”
Laurila: Are you always trying to take the same swing?
Tatis: “I think a swing changes with the pitch you’re hitting. It’s going to stay almost the same, every time, but you also have to adjust to different pitches. You just do that naturally.
“For me, it’s about the hands. My lower half … I just need to have a good base, and not get too big with my lower half. I need a good base when I land. My hands are the big part. They need to have the right path from bat to ball, from A to B.”
Laurila: Would you call yourself a hands-y hitter?
Tatis: “Yeah. I have occasional power, but for me it’s just put the ball in play.”
Laurila: That said, is over-swinging ever an issue for you?
Tatis: “Sometimes. Some days you’re feeling way too good, and you feel that you can swing as hard as you can. That’s when you start getting in trouble. Part of beginning a true veteran is when you learn to control yourself.”
Laurila: Where did you learn to hit?
Tatis: “My dad. My dad played 11 years in the big leagues, and he knows what it’s about. He aways taught me how to stay as simple as possible to the ball. We would talk a lot. I obviously saw him play — I would see what he does — but there was a lot of good talking. We would sit down at the house and talk about hitting, about different approaches.
“Me and my dad are very basic guys. We just try to be on time for the fastball, and from there, just react to everything. Then, mechanically — as I said — we like to be as simple as we can.”
Laurila: Are your mechanics basically the same as his were?
Tatis: “When he was playing his last year, yes.”
Laurila: All in all, it sounds like your M.O. is to go up to the plate and be an athlete, and not overthink the process.
Tatis: “Yeah, when I go out there I try to simplify stuff. Nothing too crazy. Nothing too scientific. Just try to be as normal as I can. But know the plan. See what the pitcher is doing. Know what the pitcher has to do when it comes to his game, and from there you bring your own game. You see how he attacks your game, but you still be yourself.”
Laurila: One last question: Is hitting fun?
Tatis: “It is fun. When you’re going it’s the best feeling in the world. But trust me, when you’re going bad it’s the worst feeling in the world. That’s when it gets complicated.”
Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found within these links: Nolan Arenado, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Michael Lorenzen, Daniel Murphy, Jesse Winker.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.