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Just a bit less than six years ago, Fernando Tatis Jr. was signed as an amateur free agent by the White Sox. A touch over five years ago, the White Sox traded Tatis (and Erik Johnson) to the Padres for James Shields. Three years ago, he debuted in the top 10 of pretty much every reputable prospect ranking. Two years ago, he debuted in the majors and took the league by storm. 

Now, Tatis Jr. has a contract that will pay him $340 million through 2034, is one of MLB's most marketable stars, has an MLB Network special coming next month and is a Gatorade pitchman. 

Time can sneak up on anyone. 

Tatis is now involved with Gatorade's "Gatorlyte."  Getty Images

I asked Tatis how it felt to be a Gatorade guy after growing up and seeing all the biggest stars in sports doing so while he grew up. 

"It's amazing," he said. "It's something you see growing up and never think it's going to be you." 

"It's better for athletes to quickly hydrate. It's something that athletes are going to appreciate," he says of Gatorlyte, Gatorade's newest creation, sounding like a seasoned veteran pitchman.

It bears repeating that just four years ago, this man was on the radar of very few people, other than being the son of a man who once hit two grand slams in the same inning. 

This version of Tatis is leveling up to superstardom. The pace since 2018 has been brisk. From run-of-the-mill, second-generation minor-leaguer to possibly the face of baseball. 

Tatis is 22 years old. He's on the cover of "MLB The Show 21." The day after the All-Star Game, MLB Network is airing a special on Tatis called "The Rise of El Niño." It is just the second "MLB Network Presents" feature on an active player. The first? Mike Trout

Yeah, that's where Tatis is going. 

Through just 189 career games, Tatis is hitting .296/.370/.595 (160 OPS+) with 56 homers and 40 stolen bases. He leads the NL in stolen bases and OPS+ this season while sitting in the top five in runs, home runs, RBI, slugging, OPS and position-player WAR. This all despite having missed a few weeks with a shoulder injury. 

He's even being emulated. Wednesday, Joc Pederson homered and copied Tatis' move on his trot approaching third base (19ish-second mark). 

Tatis is spearheading the new generation of players who don't worry themselves with their opponents doing stuff like this. The days of getting angry about being "shown up" and wanting to retaliate by throwing at someone or picking a fight would fit nicely in the rear-view mirror for players like Tatis. 

"He's just having fun," Tatis said when asked about Pederson. "He hit a bomb. I feel like he can do whatever he wants. He's just having fun with it." 

"This game is extremely hard. I feel like when you're doing it right, I feel like you deserve it, you should have fun. You should enjoy it. Enjoy it. This game is hard enough." 

He actually laughed when I said "Joc stole your move." 

Sounds like the mouthpiece for the next generation face of baseball, no? 

With Tatis leading the charge -- frankly, he could use some help on offense from some of his teammates -- the Padres are in playoff position. They currently have one of the wild cards in the NL. The franchise has only made the playoffs six times and only 2005-06 did they ever do it in consecutive seasons. Tatis is confident in his team to match that feat. 

"Supremely confident," he said. "I believe in the group we have. We just gotta keep playing team baseball." 

On an individual level, it seems very likely Tatis is bound for Denver in July. His father was never an All-Star, but he's on track to make it at age 22. 

"It's definitely something that has crossed my mind. It's something I would love to participate in and be selected to, but we'll see what happens." 

The All-Star Game. The playoffs, again. On the cover of a video game. Gatorade ad man. MLB Network special. It's all happening for Fernando Tatis Jr. at age 22. The sky is the proverbial limit.