ARLINGTON, Texas—The Texas Rangers selected UC Santa Barbara pitcher Dillon Tate with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 MLB amateur draft. The 21-year-old right-hander put up sizzling numbers for UC Santa Barbara this season and set himself up to be the best pitching prospect, to most, in the draft.
Tate was not drafted out of high school. Combine that with being the first pitcher selected in the draft and what you get is a rarity. In fact, the last pitcher to go undrafted out of high school and then become the first pitcher selected was Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg went undrafted in 2006 and then was taken No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals in 2009.
The 6-2, 185-pound hurler is the third pitcher the Rangers have taken in many years in the first round and represents a philosophy the front office believes in, developing your own pitching. In 2013, the Rangers selected Chi Chi Gonzalez with the No. 23 overall pick. Then in 2014, they selected right-hander Luis Ortiz with the No. 30 overall pick out of high school.
Per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, “There is huge value in developing your own pitching for a franchise that hasn’t done it traditionally,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “Whether it’s [Derek] Holland or [Martin] Perez or Chi Chi or other guys who are now in the mix, to keep that pipeline going, it’s huge for us.”
Tate is an interesting prospect. He didn’t become a starter until this season and was penciled in as a reliever/closer at the beginning of 2015. But as a starter for UC Santa Barbara, Tate excelled. He posted a 2.26 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 103.1 innings. As such, his efforts did not go unnoticed. He became a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, an award for the best amateur player in the country.
Tate has the build and athleticism to excel and carry a big workload. And since it was his first season as a starter, he doesn’t have a lot of miles on his arm.
When it comes to Tates “stuff,” he possesses two plus pitches. His fastball, which can tip the radar at 98 mph, tends to start out high, but settles into the mid-90s. His slider sits in the mid-80s and is said to be good enough to strikeout MLB players. The slider is almost unhittable to right-handers.
As for his other two pitches, they aren’t nearly as pro-ready as his fastball and slider. He has a changeup that sits in the mid-80s and a curveball that hits the upper-70s. The changeup is a work-in-progress, but since Tate was drafted, for all intents and purposes, to be a starter, he will have to work on the changeup to make it a viable option.
His mechanics will also be something he needs to work on. According to Keith Law of ESPN, Tate has some unnecessary movement in his delivery that causes his command to be erratic.
Per Keith Law, “Tate’s command these days is below average, something that is exacerbated by some extraneous movement in his delivery,” Law said. “But he’s a good athlete, and some tweaks and reps should have him throwing more strikes.”
If his very high leg kick can be tamed, it would help provide less effort and in return provide better command overall. It could also help protect against injury, which seems to be a staple of professional pitchers these days.
Tate is still pretty raw, but his upside is extremely high. He is projected by most as a No. 2 starter and if he can turn his changeup into an above average to plus pitch, then even possibly a No. 1 starter. He has some work to do, but seems to be a quick learner, as is evident by his draft status after only three years since going undrafted out of high school.
Per Grant, “He’s a kid who was kind of a nobody coming out of high school, so to speak,” Texas Rangers Scouting Director Kip Fagg said. “He worked hard, in the weight room, throwing. He made himself a prospect. Going from undrafted out of high school to fourth pick in country speaks to his dedication and work ethic.”
And if starting (due to lack of changeup) doesn’t work out, Tate’s two plus pitches could easily turn him into a dominant late innings pitcher for the Rangers as early as 2017.