Tate finds path to Draft in Compton UYA
LOS ANGELES -- Dillon Tate was running out of options. He needed a place to play baseball, an opportunity to pitch.
Thanks to Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., he found that -- and a lot more.
"I just needed an outlet for me to go to and get some more work in, and they really provided that for me, which was great," said Tate, a UC Santa Barbara junior who is projected to be a top-10 pick in next week's Major League Draft.
Tate was almost out of baseball by the time he turned 15. One day his mother, Lenora, drove him to the Compton academy, which has served as the pioneer for baseball's efforts in the inner city since it opened in 2006.
At the time, Tate was having trouble getting on the field as a freshman at Claremont High School.
"His mom decided to bring him up there one last time to see what she could do to get him to like baseball and give it a shot," said Kenny Landreaux, a coach at the academy and a first-round pick by the Angels in 1976. "We basically told him, just keep coming back here, you'll get all the baseball you need to get here, we'll get you all the time and pitching that you want to get.
"He started coming and we watched him perform and work out, and you could tell that he really wanted to play baseball. You could tell he loved to pitch."
Tate's desire to be on the mound worked in his favor.
"He wanted to pitch, which is great, because we're trying to get more kids interested in pitching," said Darrell Miller, vice president of youth and facility development for Major League Baseball.
Before Tate, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as the No. 5 prospect in this year's Draft class, the most heralded players to come out of the Compton academy were position players, including Astros first baseman Jon Singleton, Tigers center fielder Anthony Gose, Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks and shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Phillies' top prospect.
Dominic Smith, the Mets' No. 9 prospect, is the highest-drafted Urban Youth Academy alum (No. 11 overall, 2013), but Tate will likely change that.
"We've been able to get some real athletic guys who are position players out of Compton," Miller said, "but one of the things we've always hoped is to get some high-end, high-profile pitchers."
Tate blossomed into one of the best pitching prospects in the country under the tutelage of Rick Oliver, assistant director of the Major League Scouting Bureau. As a teenager, Tate traveled with the Urban Youth Academy to tournaments across the U.S. and even Japan, which he said was an invaluable experience.
"They would put me on a throwing rotation, and once I got more comfortable with that, I would start to hone in on my pitches and the arsenal that I have," said the 21-year-old Tate, who was an All-American this season for the Gauchos, posting a 2.26 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings. "It just steadily got better each time. So just a big 'thank you' to them for helping me out, because they've done a lot for me."
Truth be told, Tate has done a lot for the Urban Youth Academy himself.
As arguably the highest-ranked Draft prospect to ever come out of the Compton academy -- which has graduated more than 500 players to the college ranks, and 100 who have gone on to be drafted -- Tate has become someone to look up to for the roughly 3,000 kids who are involved in the California academy's day-to-day operations.
"Absolutely, he's such a role model for all of our kids," Miller said. "That's why these youth academies exist, to help kids realize their dreams and to realize their full potential. Some kids bloom later than other kids, and they just need a little bit more time, and a little bit more attention, and a little bit more training and mentorship. We have Major League people who are mentoring our kids properly to be better people. That's, I think, what we do best."
Though Tate's talent separates him from most players, youngsters from all backgrounds can become involved in the Urban Youth Academy.
In addition to the Compton academy, there are facilities in Houston, Cincinnati and New Orleans operating under the Urban Youth Academy umbrella, with more than 8,000 kids regularly participating in the programs.
The Urban Youth Academy is a not-for-profit organization, providing baseball and softball instruction by way of open workouts with experienced coaches. There is also an education component to help students in the classroom. Membership is open to all youth ages 7-17, with applications available at each academy's front office.