One of the most intriguing pieces the New York Yankees picked up at the trade deadline is a flame thrower by the name of Dillon Tate the Texas Rangers drafted out of UC-Santa Barbara with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft.
Tate’s potential is clear when you see him take the mound. He has an arsenal of pitches to put away hitters. He has a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, a slider he throws with great breaking action and is working on a changeup as well as featuring a curveball.
There was some concern at the start of the season when Tate was assigned to their South Atlantic League affiliate in Hickory. His fastball and slider didn’t have quite the same zip as he showed as a closer in college and for the 2014 Team USA Collegiate team. There was speculation that a hamstring injury suffered in late April was hampering his velocity but Tate explained, “There was something I was doing mechanically that threw everything off.”
In his first two appearances for the Yankees South Atlantic League affiliate, the Charleston RiverDogs, Tate has gotten his fastball up to 96 miles per hour and his slider is registering in the mid-80s on the gun answering any lingering questions about his stuff coming off the injury.
Tate has made great progress in just a short amount of time. In Tate’s freshman collegiate season at Santa Barbara, he only appeared in four games. By the time sophomore season rolled along, he became the team’s closer and dominated registering 12 saves with a 1.45 ERA while striking out 46 batters in 43 and 1/3 innings pitched. He attributed his improvement to his time spent with the Academy Barons of the Californa Collegiate League after his freshman year in 2013. “I just really focused on my craft, went home, played summer ball and got some work done up there and that really helped me out,” Tate said.
After his sophomore year, Tate earned the closer position for the 2014 Team USA Collegiate team. He earned three saves while posting a 0.79 ERA, striking out seven in 11.1 innings pitched. “It was overall a fun experience and I’m really blessed that I had the opportunity to do that. As far as my development goes, it just helped to throw my fastball more. That was something I didn’t do a lot of at Santa Barbara and I realized I can get outs with my fastball, so that was a big step for me that summer,” Tate said.
For his junior year at Santa Barbara, Tate was converted into a starter and pitched to All-American honors as he went 8-5 with a 2.26 ERA while striking out 111 in 103 and a third innings pitched while walking only 28 batters. Scouts took notice and he was widely regarded as a Top 5 pick and the best arm in the draft. Texas cemented those thoughts and took Tate with the fourth selection overall. “I didn’t know they were going to take me at four, but it was a fun experience going through that,” Tate said about being selected.
Texas sent Tate initially to work out of the bullpen at short-season A affiliate Spokane of the Northwest League, but after pitching in two games there was moved to full-season A Hickory, where he had the opportunity to pitch in playoff baseball and contribute to the Crawdads’ title run. “The playoff atmosphere is a little bit different than the regular season so it was good to be a part of that and be playing with a winning club. I was playing with some older guys too. You know, the game can speed up on you a little bit and it was good that I was exposed to that,” Tate said.
When Tate reported for spring training, Texas had mapped his season out for him. First, he would be a part of the starting rotation with Hickory. Tate had moved between starter and reliever at Santa Barbara, so it wasn’t a big change for him. “The transition wasn’t very difficult at all to be honest with you. Sometimes you get into some bad habits and it makes things a little bit more difficult to pitch in,” Tate said. Second, they wanted him to work on and develop his changeup and curveball. “Changeup is better. The curveball I’ve always had it, they just wanted me to throw more to help me out with some body posture things, so that’s the reason behind that.”
Tate’s turn in the Hickory rotation yielded a 4-4 record with a 5.12 ERA. He struck out 55 hitters in 65 innings pitched. He also walked 30 batters. At the time of the trade deadline, Tate was shocked to learn he had been traded to the Yankees as part of the Carlos Beltran trade. He described what he felt at the time he was told of the trade, “Nothing to be honest with you. It happened so fast I didn’t really have time to let it sink in, but this is actually been a good opportunity for me. Probably an excellent thing for me.”
Part of easing the transition to the Yankees system was not only having his Hickory teammate and fellow pitcher Erik Swanson assigned to Charleston with him but his relationship with Yankees Vice President of Player Development, Gary Denbo. Denbo was on the coaching staff when Tate pitched for Team USA in 2014. “Gary reached out to me after the trade happened just to express that the Yankees organization was really happy to have me. I think that definitely helped ease me in a little bit.”
The Yankees moved Tate out to the bullpen and he has made two appearances for the RiverDogs. He’s pitched to a 1.50 ERA in six innings, with four strikeouts.
As for the rest of the season, Tate has a very simple goal in mind, “Finish the season healthy, continue to be aggressive and that’s it.”