We see a lot of New York Mets players try to change positions. Many of them struggle either due to poor timing or a lack of talent. And while this instance didn’t result in any Gold Gloves, there was one man who put humility aside to extend his major league career.
If you were paying attention to baseball in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the name Fernando Tatis certainly crossed your eyes. I’m not talking about some infant who would one day become one of the richest players in the game. I’m referring to his father, Fernando Tatis Sr. A slugger for a brief time, his 34 home run and 107 RBI season in 1999 didn’t last long. His numbers declined immediately. Within only a few seasons, he was a part-time player.
Tatis ended up as a free agent after the 2006 season and the Mets saw him as a match. He spent the entire year down in Triple-A as a 32-year-old with a goal of becoming a little more diverse. Due to injuries on the Mets, it turned out to be a career-saving decision.
Fernando Tatis got his groove back with the Mets beginning in 2007
Up until this point, Tatis was a third baseman in the big leagues. He wasn’t going to get to play that position regularly anytime soon with the Mets. David Wright was at the height of his career.
The 2007 season had a focus on learning how to play the corner outfield spots. Being able to play these, along with his main position of third base and even first base as well, could make him an asset for the Mets.
Tatis had no problems hitting in Triple-A, smacking 21 home runs and slashing .276/.359/.485. It was child’s play for the big league veteran on offense. But that’s not why he was there. Tatis knew that if he wanted to play in the majors again, he needed to change.
In 2008, he got that opportunity.
Tatis made his Mets debut on May 13 against the Washington Nationals as a pinch hitter. A little more than a week later, he was beginning to get some starts. Injuries to Angel Pagan and Ryan Church provided him with the chance to play a lot more regularly. He would end up starting 28 games in left field and 35 in right field. His defensive numbers from that season weren’t so atrocious either even if the -0.7 WAR suggests they weren’t good either.
A separated shoulder took him out of action in mid-September but his performance was still good enough to earn him the Sports News Comeback Player of the Year award.
This was the role Tatis would maintain as a member of the Mets the following season as well. He had learned to become more versatile. In 2009, it was first base he would play more than anywhere else.
All the while, Tatis hit for the Mets, too. He slashed .297/.369/.484 in 2008 and added a .282/.339/.438 line the following season. These numbers were the best he posted in the entire decade. Taking one step back for a year to learn a new skill allowed Tatis to take one final leap forward.