Can Tate Wait?
Two-sport star is a top baseball prospect with options
To measure pitchers, scouts use a radar gun. For Donavan Tate, they could use a deer rifle.
The story of the longest ball ever hit by Tate—Baseball America's No. 1 prep position prospect for the June draft—dates to his junior season at Cartersville High in northwest Georgia.
Tate was taking batting practice. Taylor Hightower, now a freshman catcher at Ole Miss, was challenging his star teammate, as usual.
"We always had this competition," Hightower said. "I always ribbed him if I hit more home runs. So he walks up there, doesn't try to do too much, and the next thing you know, he hits one. It was jaw-dropping. Even the guy throwing BP turned around to watch it. There was silence."
Cartersville coach Stuart Chester, a big hunter, brought out his rifle with a Range Finder: "491 feet," Chester said. "I'm like, 'There's no way!' "
Donavan Tate (Photo by David Stoner)
Tate's athletic credentials also include his 4.44 speed over 40 yards and an arm that can deliver a fastball at 93-94 mph. He's a relief pitcher in high school only, but he's a quarterback who can throw a football more than 70 yards.
The son of former NFL running back Lars Tate, Donavan Tate is talking about playing quarterback at the University of North Carolina these days more than the MLB Draft.
"I want to attend college and play both sports," Tate said. "That's been my plan since I was a little kid. So I'm going to get started early, get acclimated to campus, throw some footballs around and get ready for the upcoming season."
It's a big-money decision. The No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft got a signing bonus of $6.15 million. That was shortstop Tim Beckham, also from Georgia, drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Scouts have been to Cartersville daily for practices since they began Feb. 9. That's not unprecedented for a baseball program that has won state titles in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2008. But Cartersville never had a player this good.
As a junior, Tate hit .560 with seven home runs in 109 at-bats. Batting lead-off, he stole 14 bases. He also had 17 doubles and five triples.
Against Stephens County in the state final, Tate showed why Chester bats him first in the lineup. Tate lined to left field on two bounces to open the game. He was on second base standing before the ball got there, a double.
"Wow," Chester said. "That would be a good word to sum him up. He has every tool needed for baseball. I had a scout come in here when he was a sophomore and made the comment he could be in the first round then, as a sophomore. He said his mannerisms, his looks and build are identical to A-Rod when he was in high school."
Tate is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, the frame for a free safety or a quarterback, but faster than Alex Rodriguez.
Wayne Vickery, who has coached Tate the past two seasons for the Georgia team in the Sunbelt Classic in Oklahoma, compares Tate to Jeff Francoeur and Micah Owings, two other Georgia players he's coached. Owings now is a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds but was a legendary home run hitter and center fielder in high school.
"Donavan has got the potential to be as good or better than them because he's got great speed and a great arm, and you can't coach that," Vickery said. "It looks to me like he glides through everything. It looks so easy for him. It's like he's not putting forth effort, but he gets the results."
In August, it appeared Tate was ready to give up his dream of being a college quarterback after a summer in which he played for Team USA and participated in high school all-star games at Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field. Tate announced he wasn't playing high school football.
"My body just needed some time off," Tate said. "It was overwhelming not having a break all summer. But then when I got back to school, I've been playing with my friends since middle school. Football was something I'd been working toward all my high school career. I had a feeling that I had almost let them down."
Tate re-joined the team after its first game on a vote of the seniors. He got no special treatment. He couldn't play in a game until his second full week of practice, and he didn't get back his spot as the starting quarterback until the seventh game.
Cartersville made the second round of the state playoffs. In his final high school game, Tate suffered a cracked rib in the second quarter but continued. He threw four touchdown passes.
"We didn't know it was cracked until he went to the hospital after the game," said Frank Barden, Cartersville's football coach. "He was just bent over, holding his side. I would check on him, and he'd say he's fine. His competitive nature, that's his strength. He's a very competitive person."
All Out, All Sports
Tate's mother, Traci Sims, put him in youth football when he was 7, partly hoping he'd see how rough it was and move to something else.
But in Donavan's first youth-league game, playing against kids a year older in the 8-and-under division, he scored five touchdowns and was never tackled, his mother said. She kept him in sports year-around. He's done baseball, football, basketball, golf, tennis and swimming.
"Donavan is our chameleon," Traci said. "We laugh about that. He really doesn't have a favorite. He's 110 percent into what the season is."
Perhaps Tate gives a clue when asked to name the athlete he most admires and emulates. It's Grady Sizemore, the Cleveland Indians' center fielder. Sizemore was a high school running back and quarterback who signed with the University of Washington to play football and baseball. Only a third-round pick, Sizemore chose baseball and a $2 million signing bonus.
Tate won't last that long in the draft. But if Tate's football talk is a negotiating ploy, the recruiting gurus give reason for pause. He's considered one of the top recruits in the country, which also led to UNC having a highly regarded incoming class.
Tate is determined to play quarterback. That's how he picked UNC over Southern California, which wanted him as a safety. And Tate wants to play as a freshman.
"It's not something where I'm sitting here being cocky, that I'm going to go there and play, but with my work ethic, the way I compete, I have the opportunity," Tate said. "I'd like to play as freshman and contribute to the team."
The draft, Tate says, is not on his mind.
"I'm just focusing on my high school season, worrying about repeating and winning another state championship," Tate said. "If I don't get picked high where everyone's expecting me to go, it's not something I'm worried about. I'm worried about going to North Carolina and having a successful career in football. If the draft doesn't work, that's fine with me."
Todd Holcomb covers high school sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution