Fernando Tatis Jr.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is the prospect who got away: White Sox fans, read this at your own risk

Fernando Tatis Jr. is the prospect who got away: White Sox fans, read this at your own risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fernando Tatis, Jr. is one of the brightest future stars in the game. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, one spot behind Eloy Jimenez.

He’s a five-tool shortstop slashing .289/.359/.509 at Double-A San Antonio with 15 home runs, 42 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 85 games. He’s bilingual, charismatic, the kind of guy who could be a face of a franchise.

And two years ago, he was property of the White Sox.

That was until they traded Tatis, who was only 17 at the time, to the Padres for James Shields. Tatis had yet to play a single game in the White Sox farm system, so it was tough to predict his future. However, speaking with Tatis before he competed in the MLB Futures Game on Sunday, the trade was definitely a shock to him.

“I was surprised. It was weird. For a kid that young to get traded, I had never heard of it. When they told me that, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” Tatis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

No front office is going to bat 1.000, and when it comes to Tatis, this is a trade the White Sox would love to have back.

But first, more perspective.

In June of 2016, six months before the White Sox started their rebuild, they were 29-26, a game and a half out of first place. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a healthy Carlos Rodon anchoring their rotation, they felt that with the addition of Shields, they could compete for the division.

Unfortunately, perception didn’t meet reality. Shields struggled on the mound with the White Sox in 2016 and 2017. His numbers have improved considerably, and he could return the White Sox another prospect if he’s dealt before the trade deadline. However, it’s unlikely they’ll receive a player with the potential that Tatis has right now.

“(The trade) was about getting a good starter so they could get to the playoffs. I understood. I know this game is a business,” Tatis said.

Before the trade occurred, Tatis looked into his future and saw a day when he’d be the White Sox starting shortstop.

“Yeah, that was my goal when (White Sox director of international scouting) Marco Paddy signed me,” Tatis said. “We talked about it when I started and that was the goal.”

His goal now is to make it to the major leagues with the Padres.

“I’m pretty close. I want to keep working. When they decide to call me up, I’ll be ready.”

As for his former team, he’s impressed with the talent the White Sox have assembled.

“They’re building something special. They have really good prospects. I wish the best for them.”

You can’t help but wonder what the rebuild would look like if Tatis was along for the ride. He’s the one who got away.

Amid otherwise joyous SoxFest, one fan wanted to know how White Sox could have traded away Fernando Tatis Jr.

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MLB

Amid otherwise joyous SoxFest, one fan wanted to know how White Sox could have traded away Fernando Tatis Jr.

"How could you whiff on him?"

That was the somewhat harsh question lobbed during the final panel of this year's otherwise joyous SoxFest, members of the organization's front office and player-development staff getting quizzed over why Fernando Tatis Jr. wasn't among the fleet of prospects who were omnipresent this weekend at the Hilton Chicago.

Tatis was dealt to the San Diego Padres along with pitcher Erik Johnson in the 2016 in-season trade that brought James Shields to the South Side. It's important to note, of course, that trade occurred prior to the announcement of the now-beloved rebuild, back when the White Sox were trying to best position themselves for a run at an American League Central championship in the final year of the Robin Ventura Era.

Oh, and Tatis was just 17 years old at the time.

Since, Tatis has rocketed up prospect lists, and just Saturday night he was named by MLB Pipeline as the No. 8 prospect in the game. The next morning, at least one fan was wondering why — particularly in the wake of a year and a half of substandard pitching from Shields — the White Sox let Tatis slip away.

"Any time you trade a 17-year-old — obviously we were high on him when we signed him — there’s risk," Jeremy Haber, the White Sox assistant general manager, said in response to perhaps the weekend's only negative query — other than when someone complained to Rick Renteria that he bunts too much. "At the time, we were … competing for a playoff spot. This organization has never been shy about being aggressive when we’re trying to win. And that’s going to come with the potential of trading someone who’s good. We expect when teams call and ask for our players, just like with our major league players, there’s a reason they like them.

"The track record in this business is not 100 percent."

Of course, it would be nice to have Tatis starring alongside Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech and the five other White Sox prospects who landed on MLB Pipeline's top-100 list Saturday night. But the sheer volume of highly touted prospects that general manager Rick Hahn and his front office have injected into this organization in the past year plus remains staggering, and you could still make a case that the White Sox — even after Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez graduated from prospect status — have the most impressive farm system in baseball.

Haber's line about a less-than-perfect track record, though, is an important thing to remember as the rebuild moves along. While the White Sox have a seemingly endless amount of exciting young players right now, the odds nearly guarantee that not all of them will pan out.

"As we sit here today, you look at not just what you hear from us or what you’re seeing with your eyes, but what’s being reported by people outside the organization, we objectively have options at every position, guys who could, if they max out and hit their ceiling, provide us with championship-caliber players at every position on the field and on the pitching staff," Hahn said during his pre-SoxFest press conference Friday. "Unfortunately, player development isn’t always linear and cruel things happen and the baseball gods likely have some hiccups in store for us along the way. So ultimately not everyone is going to hit those ceilings, in all probability."

Given his high ranking, Tatis looks at the moment like one that got away. But there are an awful lot of highly ranked players — Jimenez ranked fourth and Kopech ranked 10th on the same list — under the White Sox control to make sure Tatis' absence doesn't put any damper on this rebuilding process.

Guys Cubs, White Sox traded away rank as top two shortstop prospects in baseball

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USA TODAY

Guys Cubs, White Sox traded away rank as top two shortstop prospects in baseball

Neither the Cubs nor White Sox need worry about the ones that got away. But it turns out that the ones that got away are pretty darn good.

Baseball's two best shortstop prospects, according to MLB Pipeline's rankings, released Wednesday, were dealt away by the Cubs and White Sox during the 2016 season.

Gleyber Torres, traded to the New York Yankees in the deal that brought Aroldis Chapman to the North Side, is the site's No. 1 shortstop prospect. Right behind Torres at No. 2 is Fernando Tatis Jr., who the White Sox shipped to the San Diego Padres in the trade for James Shields.

Torres was a well thought of prospect when the Cubs moved him, a necessity to be the main piece of the trade that got the Cubs their World Series closer. Torres never played above the Class A level while in the Cubs organization, but he had a .275/.359/.433 slash line at Myrtle Beach before they moved him to the Yankees. Last year, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, Torres was awesome in just 55 games, with a .287/.383/.480 slash line and a 47-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Yankees have a good thing going right now, and teaming Torres with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez should be a terrifying situation for opposing teams. Good thing for the Cubs they traded Torres out of the National League. But there's no reason for the Cubs to be kicking themselves for the deal, as their middle-infield combo of Javy Baez and Addison Russell also has plenty of future potential, not to mention the good things they've managed to do in the present and recent past. You know, like winning the World Series.

Tatis, meanwhile, was not a known commodity when he was traded away from the South Side in the Shields deal. Pitcher Erik Johnson, who also went to the Padres in that trade, got more attention at the time. Since, however, Tatis has dominated the minor leagues, slashing .273/.311/.432 in 55 games as a 17-year-old in 2016. Last season, he jacked those numbers up to .278/.379.498 with 22 homers, 75 RBIs, 32 steals and 27 doubles — and he didn't turn 19 until earlier this month.

There was little way of knowing that Tatis, who was just 17 when that pre-rebuild trade was made, would turn out to be what he's become and so quickly. But while having Tatis as part of the rebuilding effort would have obviously been nice, the White Sox aren't hurting for highly rated prospects. Michael Kopech, Zack Collins and Jake Burger have already popped up on MLB Pipeline's positional top-10 lists, with outfielders — and Eloy Jimenez — still to come. The future is bright as can be on the South Side even without Tatis, and the team is very confident that Tim Anderson, who's been at the major league level for two seasons now, will succeed as the shortstop of the future.

It's fun to play the what-if game with guys like Torres and Tatis, though with the Cubs already winning a championship and the White Sox generating plenty of hope for the same with their rebuild, these trades don't fall into the category of epic regret.