Dillon Tate has officially become quite the enigma as a pitcher. The righty with the electric arm was drafted as a starter by the Texas Rangers in 2015 and a year later was dealt away to the New York Yankees and put into the bullpen. Where he winds up is anyone’s guess.
Tate was the highest player ever drafted out of UC Santa Barbara, selected fourth overall in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. The consensus All-American and Golden Spike semi-finalist was originally lights out as a closer for the Gauchos, going 2-1 with 12 saves his sophomore campaign while posting an impressive 1.45 ERA and 9.55 strikeout-per-nine ratio, despite walking nearly four batters per nine. The Gauchos not only moved Tate into the rotation his junior season, they made him the Friday night ace. He did very well, going 8-5 with a 2.26 ERA, 111 strikeouts over 103.1 innings and a much improved 2.44 walk-per-nine ratio.
The Rangers proceeded with caution after Tate more than doubled his total innings of his freshman and sophomore seasons combined. He threw a mere nine innings in his 2015 professional debut but was sharp in doing so in both the Northwest and South Atlantic Leagues.
2016 was another story altogether.
Tate came out of the gates hot for the Hickory Crawdads. In his second start of the season, he hurled six shutout innings of four-hit baseball, striking out 10 and walking none. He landed 53 of his 65 pitches for strikes, an unthinkable 82 percent. He also, unfortunately, tweaked his hamstring and went on the disabled list for nearly a month. He wasn’t the same once he returned.
First his velocity dipped. That mid-90s patented fastball that had touched 98 frequently was inconsistent, sometimes hitting in the high-80s. His secondary pitches were wild, as he became more hittable, seeing his WHIP spike as high as 1.62 — which in turn saw his ERA sit above 5.00 for much of the season. While the potential was still there, the Rangers were in a win-now mode and used Tate as bait to bring in Carlos Beltran as they shipped the young righty to the Yankees at the deadline.
The Yankees put Tate back in the bullpen. Whether it was to reduce his innings in order to focus on mechanical changes or whether it was an audition for his future role, Tate came back to earth a little bit.
“A couple tweaks here and there that I feel like I believe is going to help him with his mechanics,” Charleston skipper Luis Dorante said during the SAL playoffs. “You have to understand when you’re starting, you tend to be more conservative with your pitch count, you always want to go through five innings or so. You don’t think too much, it’s just throwing hard and just throwing strikes. Now that he is in the bullpen and the work he has put in with [pitching coach Justin] Pope and himself, it’s been paying off. We’re just thinking about increasing his velocity. That’s going to be his role I think in the big leagues, a reliever.”
After the season ended, Tate was sent to the Arizona Fall League to continue to refine his mechanics, and work on getting that velocity back. Early reports are positive in terms of a spike in the velocity. However, he has still been very hittable.
For more on Tate, including colleagues’ scouting reports as well as projections, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full feature by clicking on the link below: