For such a young player, Dillon Tate has had a tumultuous career. He has swung wildly from a potentially elite prospect to an afterthought. Over the course of one outing, he can flash the talent that made him a top-5 draft pick in 2015 and the short-comings that led the Rangers to deal him to the Yankees.
Tate was the headliner of the trade that sent Carlos Beltran to Texas back at the 2016 trade deadline. His prospect sheen had mostly worn off at that point after a disappointing first year in the Rangers' organization, but he still represented a promising return for just two months of an aging, soon-to-be free agent bat.
He was able to restore some of his prospect cache in 2017. Tate had his best overall season as a pro, and now profiles as one of the Yankees' many interesting pitching prospects that come with big arms and nearly as big question marks.
Tate threw 83.1 innings in 2017 across High-A and Double-A, the highest such figure in his professional career. He made 13 appearances, all as a starter. His ERA was a shiny 2.81, but his K/9 rate (6.2) was underwhelming. He cut his BB/9 rate to 2.6, a full walk lower than in 2016.
In contrast to his prior performances in the minors, Tate's numbers this season were encouraging. He still didn't strike out as many batters as desired, but he cut back on free passes, and a sub-3 ERA is a welcome sight compared to the 4.70 mark he posted in Single-A in 2016.
Scouting the stat-line, however, leaves an incomplete picture of Tate's status as a prospect. More encouraging than his improved numbers was the stuff Tate flashed in 2017. He looked less like the also-ran that the Rangers gave up on and more like the guy that was the first pitcher to come off the board in the 2015 draft.
Beyond his poor numbers, what made Tate such a letdown in previous years was the significant drop in his stuff. After coming out of the draft as a premium talent, Tate's velocity often dropped into the 80's while in the Rangers' system. As a player billed with a mid-90's heater to go along with a wipeout slider and functional changeup, Tate failing to hit 90 on the gun was obviously discouraging.
Tate's velocity, by all accounts, was back in 2017. In Baseball Prospectus’ Yankees Top 10 Prospects list, Jarret Seidler noted that he saw Tate all the way up at 97 mph. ESPN's Keith Law stated that he had Tate sitting 94-97 mph when he saw Tate pitch for Trenton in September. The premium stuff that made Tate a top prospect was there.
Interestingly, Law wrote that "Tate is now back to where he was out of the draft". That's an intriguing idea. In one sense, this is good news; Tate was a great prospect out of college. On the other hand, it could be taken as a bad sign that it has taken over two years for Tate to return simply to square one, especially given that he will already be 24 next season.
There are other concerns beyond Tate merely being back where he started. He missed the start of 2017 with shoulder issues, and those injury problems and his occasional command struggles will make a relief role a very plausible outcome. Even after a fine 2017, there's a wide range of outcomes for Tate.
That being said, this year was a step in the right direction for one of the Yankees' more talented pitching prospects. He made it clear he still has a chance to stick as a starter, and he returned to showing really promising physical tools. He's still behind where he was expected to be after being drafted so high, but 2017 saw him moving in the right direction, towards hopefully reaching the majors within the next season or two.