In our upcoming Digital Prospect Guide, we ranked Blake Tekotte over the 6+ million dollar man Donavan Tate. In this showdown of fast and athletic San Diego Padre center field prospects, I'll explain our reasoning as to how our rankings came out. Also, I asked our friend Veteran Scout for his professional opinion on the matter, which can be found at the bottom of the article.
While Tate hasn't had the start to his career that he wanted, you can't hold his injuries too heavily against him. Injuries can happen to anyone, and are every bit as much bad luck as they are anything else, except ATV accidents, which may fall under the 'dumb' luck category.
However, athletes with raw skills need as much developmental time as possible. There is no such thing as making up lost development time, and Tate has lost plenty. Known mostly for his tools when he was drafted, he'll need plenty of minor league time to polish and hone his skills. Meanwhile, Tekotte played three years in the ACC, and has two full seasons of professional baseball under his belt. It would be unfair to compare their level of polish given the age and competition faced differences. But when we dig into the tools and probability of their swings stacking up at the higher levels, we start to see some things jump out.
Both of these players aren't lacking for tools. Both feature plus speed and range defensively, and have nice speed/power combinations offensively. The question between the two players, for me anyway, is which one has the best chance to use their skill set at the Major League level.
Top clip is Tate, bottom is Tekotte
Because of Tate's lack of playing time in the minors and the relatively low amount of coverage that Tekotte has recieved, finding good and comparable angles wasn't exactly easy. These are only batting practice swings, which don't tell the whole story, but from these clips you can easily get an idea of what each guy looks like and how his swing moves in sequence.
Starting with Tate, the wording that comes to mind is "out front." Everything for him is "out front." His bat speed, his contact point, his unload, everything is out in front. This happens partly because he stops his hands in his load and has to restart, but also because he forces his barrel down and into contact. These two moves are rather opposite of what many great hitters do: build bat speed behind them and expel that into contact, not try and create bat speed and make contact at the same time.
Hitting a moving baseball is hard enough. Trying to build bat speed at the exact same time you're making contact only makes hitting that much harder. But, Tate's faults don't mean his swing automatically won't translate as he moves up. At the very least, he knows how to get forward well with his hands, which is always important. It's hard to barrel up if you can't get the barrel through.
Tate's manner of delivering the barrel isn't extremely different than how Rickie Weeks delivers the barrel, but Tate seems to lack Weeks' wrists and hit tool. Though it does bode well for Tate that once Weeks started to load more behind him (pay close attention at :34-:40 of the Weeks link), his numbers started to rise (see 2010 season). Should Tate learn to load behind more and push out front less, he should also have much better barrel control and swing plane adjustability.
A younger Rickie Weeks, showing a very similar manner of barrel delivery of Tate. See link earlier for how Weeks has made adjustments to his load.
Looking at Tekotte, we see a guy who has a pretty good idea of what he's trying to do. He has a good rhythmic load in his upper body and some solid coil in his lower body (stare at his belt buckle to see it), and a bat head that enters the zone fairly quickly. One other thing that jumps out is a good amount of lift in his swing, which helps explain the 31 home runs he's hit in the last two seasons, a number that you'd take anytime out of a center fielder who can run.
Areas To Work On
It's easy to see what area Tate needs to work on: his sequence of movements. While he does get his hands through the zone well, they bypass his lower body too quickly and he never lets his hips fully get involved. There's also a good amount of spin from his front side, helping to explain why his swing plane is heavily pull side oriented (more on this below). Spinning the front side open to get through is a sign that his front leg has a mind of his own and his rear leg isn't doing enough work. Should he learn to put his rear leg in control, his swing plane would be much improved and he'd start to lace balls in the gaps vs. consistently pulling the ball almost regardless of pitch location. Like I mentioned earlier, a better load behind him would certainly help. Should Tate lessen the need to be so quick forward, he would see the ball deeper into his hit zone.
The biggest thing that Tekotte needs to work on, and this goes back to his days at the University of Miami, is a tendency to try and do too much at the plate. At times, he can be prone to instances of "bigging up" or trying to He-Man the ball out of the ball park. When he's going his best he's short and quick, and lets his bat speed and natural loft take care of the flight. When he's "bigging up" he also has a tendency to get to his front side too soon, leaving him vulnerable to off-speed pitches. While his load is smooth and rhythmic, there is some length and arm involvement. This does slow him down at times and helps explain the relatively high strikeout total for a top-of-the-order hitter.
Tate's swing is anything but dead in the water. Let's be very clear about that. But, there is also plenty of work to be done for his strength and bat speed to work. Better rear leg control, like I talked about above, would be huge for him. Should he learn to get his hips ahead of his hands and give himself some form of upper body resistance, he'd also give himself a much better chance to adjust for off-speed pitches.
Currently, Tate is an "all-back,all-forward hitter." He loads and unloads in one sequence. The full sequence of events gets bypassed here. His hips aren't activated early. His hands bypass his lower body. The lack of resistance could make him prone to struggling with pitches he's not sitting on. Now, those are mechanics issues. The minor leagues are there for guys to work on things. That being said, Tate needs plenty work, and his injuries have heavily slowed him ironing out his mechanical issues.
If Tate learns how to improve his sequence, he has the power and bat speed to be an impact player. But, and Veteran Scout will touch on this more below, his lack of hit ability could be the biggest thing holding him back.
Tekotte is already very close to what he's going to be as a ball player and doesn't have quite as much room for improvement as Tate does, but he also has a lot less to work on. As of right now, his load really only loads his hands. It doesn't quite load his upper body, especially his rear lat, as well as he could. Should he learn how to fully load his upper and stretch the muscles of his back when loading his hands, his swing could become much tighter and more compact. A tighter and more compact swing for Tekotte could help raise his contact rate, which could make his surprising pop play up, and help him get on-base more where his plus speed is an asset.
Compare Tekotte's load to Mauer's
Blake Tekotte is not Joe Mauer. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. But, here we can see what loading the rear lat and the hands at the same time' looks like. To the naked eye, Tekotte's move isn't very different than what Mauer is doing. Digging in deeper, however, shows different muscles being activated. Tekotte is more arms and hands, while Mauer is stretching his lat when he loads his hands. Should Tekotte learn to load/stretch his rear lat as he loads his hands, his launch-to-contact move would be much tighter and compact, similarly to what Mauer does.
A Professional Opinion
When we research for our lists and reports, we try to take advantage of as many professional opinions as we can. I enlisted the help of Veteran Scout to see which player he liked more, and why:
Tate has good hand strength and a lean, strong frame. He has plus speed, a plus arm and gets good reads in center. When I saw him, every ball he hit in BP was within 30 yards (left or right) of the left field foul line. He lacks rhythm and sequence at the plate, and pushes his hands through to create bat speed. He showed little bat control and a lack of instincts and hit ability against live pitching. He didn't show much adjustability either. He can punish a ball when he runs into it and is easy to dream on but the bat doesn't make him stand out.
Tekotte's instincts, quickness and plus speed in center let him get good jumps and reads the ball well. He is aggressive on his routes and on the base paths. He's sound mechanically at the plate, and shows good natural pull side loft. I think Tekotte could be a solid-average Major League center fielder and top-of-the-order bat with plus speed.
Tate's ceiling is higher for sure, but he's also a lot further away from his ceiling. I like Tate, but I didn't like him at No. 3 (2009 draft slot), or for $6.2 Million. As you can see from his season, his bat still needs some work. However, if he some day figures it out, his impact will be bigger than Tekotte's.
Tekotte does have a lower ceiling than Tate, but he's a better bet to reach it. He's a ball player, and a quite good one. Tate is still an athlete learning how to play baseball. I think Tekotte will have a productive Major League career. Tate might have a longer road ahead of him than Tekotte and might not reach his ceiling, or even Tekotte's. Tate also lacks baseball instincts. The biggest separator between them is that one is a right handed hitter and the other is left handed.