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A case for Fernando Tatis Jr. as the MLB Latino Face of the 2020s

Fernando Tatis Jr., who has turned into a potent offensive threat, was already on fans' radar before his August grand slam on a 3-0 count spiked his popularity. ESPN

Fernando Tatis Jr. shook up more than unwritten baseball rules last month when he slammed a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth inning over the right-field fence to give his San Diego Padres an 11-run lead over the Texas Rangers.

The controversial grand slam on Aug. 17 -- both of the managers involved in the Padres' eventual 14-4 win took issue with Tatis missing a take sign -- didn't just put the Dominican shortstop on the map. It also instantly vaulted Tatis, 21, and his trademark golden dreadlocks squarely into the conversation about which young star should carry the torch for MLB's next generation.

With both the baseball postseason and Hispanic Heritage Month underway, ESPN found the timing ideal to tackle one of the bigger debates among one section of baseball's fandom: Which of today's superstar candidates is most worthy of being labeled the current Face of Latino Baseball?

Our friends at ESPN Deportes and FiveThirtyEight devised a formula -- which is explained here -- using on-field performance, social media popularity, feedback from 30 ESPN analysts and fan votes to get to the answer. The results produced a ballot that stands at four candidates: Tatis, the Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. from Venezuela, Puerto Rico's Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, and Dominican outfielder Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals. All are young, charismatic, popular and have enough accomplishments in their short careers to be considered for the honor.

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Who is the Latino face of baseball?

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, ESPN examines the talented and charismatic crop of Latino players to determine who is the current Latino face of baseball.

Each day this week, we will present the case for each of the four superstars, with our winner to be revealed Friday. We started Monday with Acuna, followed Tuesday by Lindor. Next up is Tatis, a second-generation MLB star who has taken baseball by storm.

Stats

Tatis, who was third in the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year voting, has the smallest sample size among the four candidates with 143 games over his two seasons. In that span, however, he has smashed 39 homers and driven in 98 runs while batting .301.

Few players loomed as large offensively in the National League in this pandemic-shortened year as did Tatis -- a familiar top-10 presence in several league categories. The NL Player of the Month for August finished second in homers (17) and runs scored (50), fourth in RBIs (45) and stolen bases (11), and fifth in total bases (128) while appearing in all but one game.

What's more, Tatis' 2020 earned the second-highest projected WAR for a 21-year-old shortstop over a 162-game span in MLB history at 7.7, behind only Rogers Hornsby's 10.2 (see below).

Social media

Tatis has close to 600,000 followers on his Instagram account. At 1.7 million views in mid-August, Tatis was the third-most popular Latino player of note on Instagram. That has grown by over 1 million since, as has his Instagram following, which has added 100,000 users since the grand slam.

Web searches

Tatis' energy on the field has always translated well onto search engines, yet his popularity on the Google Trends index soared above any of those of the three other candidates the week of Aug. 16, which is when he cleared the bases against the Rangers.

As a 20-year-old rookie in 2019, Tatis was eighth among shortstops in searches before he even completed his first full season. In 2020, he has arguably been among baseball's best players, and that's been reflected in Google searches with his name.

Experts

Tatis was the clear favorite of our panel with an overwhelming 13 first-place votes among his 26 top-3 tallies. He also appeared on 23 of the 30 ballots.

"To be on this list, it's true that you need those numbers but also the other criteria," ESPN Deportes' Ernesto Jerez said. "We've all seen him on social media, but beyond that there's the connection he has with fans, how they see themselves in him not only because of his position as shortstop but in the age we live in now -- the dreadlocks, the music, as well as the charisma he projects day in and day out."

Special category: Fan vote

Between Aug. 26 and Aug. 28, you, the fans, had a hand in deciding who should be the Latino Face of Baseball through four tightly contested polls.

Tatis cruised to victories in three of the four polls -- ESPN Béisbol (44%), ESPN Deportes (43.7%) and ESPN México (46.3%), while finishing as the runner-up in the SC Español poll at 33.2%.