Name: Donavan Tate
Report Date: 2011 NWL Season (Rookie Level)
Birthplace: Cartersville, GA
Overview: As the 3rd overall draft pick in 2009 – and recipient of a club-record $6.25 mil bonus – Tate has been the source of much frustration for the Padres and those who follow the team. The tools are all there for this young man to be an impact player, but a rash of injuries and off-the-field issues have hampered his development. This is the classic toolsy, high risk, high ceiling player that has just as great of a chance of making the majors as he does burning out in the low minors.
Physical Attributes: Tate is a supreme athlete and his body reflects this. He has a swimmer-like build with long arms and legs that show room for excellent growth on his frame in the future. He has incredible bat speed that is head and shoulders above just about every other player in the Northwest League. The phrase “runs like a gazelle” comes to mind when he runs, as, not only is he incredibly fast, but Tate looks so relaxed and doesn’t seem to exude much effort (not a lack of effort, but his athleticism makes everything seem easy).
Hitting: When Tate was drafted, this was the aspect of his game that drew the most ire. Even though Tate possesses plus bat speed and uses his hands very well, there is still a lot of swing-and-miss to be dealt with. He does avoid some classic flaws that many minor leaguers will show. Tate is always soft on his front side, which allows him to maintain balance throughout his swing. He also keeps his front shoulder in most of the time but is still prone to letting it fly open every now and then. There is some difficulty in judging Tate as a hitter, as he changed his swing following his most recent drug-related suspension.
Before the suspension he hit with an upright stance with movement going on during his loading phase. Tate slotted his hands well by taking them slightly back during his load, which allowed him great length through the hitting zone. When he fired the swing he got excellent hip rotation. Overall this was a very loose, relaxed, and athletic looking swing. This is all apparent in the video below:
After the suspension, Tate has tightened up his swing seemingly beyond what was necessary. Frankly, he looked uncomfortable. He hit from a lower stance and basically eliminated his load. His bat plane didn’t change with this new stance; he maintained a mostly flat plane with some elevation at the end. Tate shortened up his length through the hitting zone and began to rely more on his hands to produce base hits. His lower half was not eliminated from his swing but it was not as involved as it had been. Instead of using his athletic ability to aid him as a hitter, he looked like he was trying to bottle it up.
In both cases the physical tools are there for this young man to become a real offensive threat. The difference is his first swing is more typical of 3 or 4-hole hitter while he current swing is typical of a 1 or 2-hole hitter. Tate’s bat speed is head turning on two fronts. One, the actual speed of his bat is astounding. Two, the ease of which he produces the swing is almost more enviable. To go along with his bat speed is his superior use of his hands. Tate’s swing is currently in a state of flux and thus he often cannot time balls perfectly. What has kept him offensively afloat are his hands. He can shoot balls to the outfield based solely on the quickness of his wrists. Once the rest of his swing begins to feel more natural his hands will not just be bailing him out of poorly timed swings. Instead, they will be truly adding to the swing which will elevate his offensive game to a high level.
The underrated part of Tate’s game at the plate is his eye. Stats are not the best judgment of performance at this low level in the minors but his on base percentage has always been between 120 and 135 points higher than his batting average. Yes, he strikes out a lot. But for every 10 strikeouts he will get 9 walks. This is nothing to scoff at, as it would be easy for the athletic Tate to go up to the dish hacking at everything he sees. It shows some level of maturity and knowledge of the game that he is able to get on base as often as he does. Current – 40 | Future – 55
Power: Tate splits the scouting community on this one. Some scouts see the athleticism, bat speed and high ceiling and begin to use phrases like “plus raw power”. Other scouts see Tate as a “slasher” – somebody who makes consistent hard contact but isn’t putting balls over the fence at a remarkable rate. His current stats point to the latter while his physical tools point to the former. So which camp is right? Both.
Tate’s swing is not built for home runs. As mentioned above, he has a mostly flat bat plane and tends to not create the excellent leverage that is necessary to hit home runs. Should he adjust his swing for home runs, Tate would not have a problem putting balls into the stands based solely on his physical ability. This is very unlikely to happen as his swing has been retailored once already to a more contact oriented approach. A radical comparison in terms of power is Billy Butler. Yes Butler is a big, burly first baseman while Tate is a fast, athletic center fielder. Digging deeper some similarities do appear.
Butler has similar bat speed, with even more strength, yet has not even hit 25 home runs in a season to this point. All that being said, nobody would ever say Butler possesses a lack of power. This is how Tate’s career may play out: a doubles machine who can put the right pitch into the lights, but is more likely to have the power in his swing manifest as screaming line drives as opposed to soaring moon shots. Current – 35 | Future – 55
Speed: Tate is a bit slow getting out of the box, but this is understandable as a right-handed hitter who generates as much force as he does with his swing. Once he gets going, he is a blur. Tate’s speed is more apparent on balls he hits to the outfield. He can stretch a single into a double at the drop of a hat. The phrase “stand-up triple” is a rarity in general, but with Tate it is the rule rather than the exception. Even more so than his speedy teammate Jace Peterson, Tate is raw on the base paths. He doesn’t get amazing jumps when attempting a steal, leading to a lower success rate than his skills would predict. Current – 60 | Future – 65
Fielding: Tate offers well-above average range in the outfield. The scary part is he is still truly learning the nuances of defense. He tends to run straight for balls in the gaps rather than taking the proper angle. He is so athletic that the result of this poor route running isn’t balls over his head. Usually it is a last second surge to reach the ball that could have been more routine if he took the proper route. With more coaching and continued development, Tate could be a pitchers best friend out in center field. Current – 55 | Future – 65
Arm: Arm strength may be the only tool that Tate does not poses that is above average. That is not saying his arm is poor. He shows an adequate arm that won’t keep runners up at night but should be enough to keep many honest. Tate’s arm is hampered by a less-than-pretty throwing motion and improper footwork. His throwing motion may or may not be able to be improved, as often that is something that is very difficult to change, but his feet can be vastly improved. Tate needs to learn how to really get behind a ball in the outfield and build momentum going into his throws. This is an area that a coach can easily improve on the back fields of spring training. Current – 45 | Future – 50
Conclusion: Tate has the potential to make a real impact at the major league level. The player Tate is now is not what has the Padres salivating. The organization is excited for the player Tate may one day become. Because of this, San Diego will continue to show faith in the young man even with his constant injuries and questionable off-the-field decisions. Center fielders like the one Tate has the potential to become are few and far between meaning he will get any and every opportunity to succeed.
Ceiling: A top-of-the-order hitter who can create runs by getting on base and stealing 20-30 bases a season. At the same time, he can save runs on defensive with his plus range that will play very well in the expansive Petco Park. Tate is one of the highest-ceiling players in the Padres’ system.
Likely Outcome: Tate is too big of an investment to not at least get a shot in the big leagues. More than likely he will be a player known for his stellar defense and occasional offensive outbursts with a similar career path to Cameron Maybin.
Irresponsible Comparison: Adam Jones with less power, more walks, more strikeouts and more steals.
Current – 47 | OFP – 58
Note: Please keep in mind that in scouting every tool is given the same weight when averaged together. So while a 47 current grade for Tate makes him just below an average MLB player, his other skills outside of hitting are what would carry his production if he were getting at bats in San Diego.
AOFP: 58 – A tick below first-division starter.
Ryan Parker is a contributor to Padres Prospects. Check out his coverage of the Eugene Emeralds at Oregon Baseball Report.