Carlos Beltran and Zack Britton are both former All Star players who have dominated at the Major League level. Dillon Tate is not. However, Tate has been dealt for both of those players in his young career. While he’ll likely never have the impact of Beltran or Britton, the Orioles do hope he can contribute out of the bullpen in 2020. So... can he?
Tate came to Baltimore with fellow prospects Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers at the 2018 trade deadline. While it hurt to see Britton go, Tate brought some promise to the deal. The Rangers selected Tate with the fourth overall pick out of UC Santa Barbara in 2015, and Texas eventually sent him to New York in 2016.
When a player is selected that high, no matter how he fares early in his career, a certain buzz will follow (see Beckham, Tim). Tate flashed brilliance with UCSB during his junior year, and was regarded by some as the top pitching prospect in the class. If the Orioles could retool his development, it was a major win. If they succeeded where the Yankees had failed? Even better.
Tate had already been pitching at Double-A for the Trenton Thunder in 2018, and the Orioles decided to keep him in the Eastern League. Unfortunately, his 5-2 record with a 3.38 in Trenton turned into a 2-3 record with a 5.98 ERA for the Baysox.
Tate started all 22 games that he appeared in during 2018, but the Orioles decided to work him as a reliever this past season. He started two games for Bowie in 2019 but never pitched more than four innings.
Tate improved in his new role. He never allowed more than two runs as a reliever, and did not allow a run of his own in 11 of 15 outings. At the end of July, Tate held a 3.48 ERA, 1.099 WHIP and a 3.30 SO/BB. He hadn’t dominated, but the Orioles decided they had seen enough.
Tate turn 25 on May 1, and began his professional career in 2015. It may have been out of desperation, but the Orioles felt comfortable enough to promote Tate to the big club. He gave up three runs through two innings during his debut on July 29. The Orioles lost the game 8-7 to San Diego, and Tate got his “Welcome to the Big Leagues, Kid” moment out of the way early. Tate allowed three more runs his next time out against the Blue Jays, and another run three games later. Baltimore had seen enough.
The Orioles optioned Tate to Triple-A, where he had never pitched before, and he benefited from the demotion. He responded with three scoreless appearances before finally allowing a run his fourth time out with the Tides. The Orioles, again out of necessity, recalled Tate on August 23.
After that, Tate was the pitcher you all watched down the stretch. He tossed three scoreless innings to kick off his return on August 23, but that proved to be his longest outing of the year. He struck out at least one batter in nine-consecutive appearances from September 6-September 28, and did not allow a run in seven of those games. However, he allowed three runs in each of the other two.
Out of the bullpen, his sinking-fastball sat around 92-94 MPH. At times, both his changeup and slider were effective. Still, he only struck out 20 batters in 21 innings. That’s a number the Orioles wouldn’t mind see climb a bit if he stays in the bullpen. He currently ranks as the Orioles 26th best prospect on MLB.com.
Tate did not pitch in the month of May due to what he called “shoulder fatigue,” but the rest seemed to do him well. He stayed healthy after his return on June 7, but it was the fourth consecutive year Tate missed at least some time due to an injury (hamstring, shoulder and quad).
While he remained inconsistent at the Major League level, he showed a high maturity level at the beginning of September. Rays outfielder Tommy Pham took exception to a brush-back fastball that Tate threw in a tie game during extra innings, and made a bigger deal than necessary about it after a walk-off single. Tate, who almost certainly was not trying to hit Pham, took the high road after the fact and refused to get into a war of words with Pham.
Tate will be in the mix next spring to break camp with the team. The righty has shown he’s capable of retiring Major League hitters, but the consistency isn’t there yet. Still, Tate has only four games of Triple-A ball under his belt, and the Orioles could easily decide it would be better for his long term development to start with the Tides. We’ve seen Mike Elias keep guys like Chance Sisco or Ryan Mountcastle at Triple-A for an extended period of time, and Tate may follow that path as well.
Regardless, the only thing that should matter is Tate’s long term development. If the Orioles think Tate can figure things out at the Major League level, great. But they certainly shouldn’t mess with a young pitchers arm simply because the rebuilding team doesn’t have any better options. If they need to pick up a cheap reliever or two this off season, they can do that instead.
Whether he starts at Triple-A or with the Orioles, we’ll definitely see Tate in Baltimore next year. All signs right now point to him continuing his stint as a reliever, and that’s okay. As we saw time and time again, relievers can be extremely valuable to a club. The Orioles have plenty of holes to fill, and if Tate can fill one in the bullpen next season I think everyone will settle for that.