SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles right-hander Dillon Tate was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball during his first full season when, scrolling through Instagram, he began noticing a trend sweeping the game.
Video after video of contemporaries training at private offseason facilities trickled online, until they became commonplace on Tate’s feed. They would lead Tate down social media wormholes, from Instagram to YouTube, showing the data-driven instruction many were soon receiving at places like Driveline in Seattle.
“I thought about it and said: I am going to go down there one day,” Tate said. “I’d never been to any pitching facility. I’d thrown at other people’s facilities, but I was never really getting instruction. It was just more like me using their space.”
Flash forward to this offseason, when Tate decided it was time to change that. Coming off a summer when he made 16 relief appearances as a rookie, the 25-year-old sought ways to accelerate a career that’s that progressed nonlinearly since the Rangers selected him No.4 overall in the 2015 MLB Draft. So he relocated from his Southern California home to Seattle for three months this offseason, staying near Driveline’s facility and immersing himself in its pitching program.
“It was just invest in yourself and I was willing to spend that time on myself just to see the outcome,” Tate said. “I had to let somebody else be more hands on with me and experience what that was like ... you have to be a student of the game. You have to be open to information to other outlets."
Tate continued to say “it depends on who it's coming from and if I trust that source,” which wasn’t always the case early in his career. The Rangers traded Tate to the Yankees 14 months after signing him for $4.2 million -- largely because his stuff regressed, but also because Tate fell out of favor in Texas after clashing with some members of the organization’s strength and player development staff. Tate lost much of his prospect luster in subsequent seasons, bouncing from the Yankees to the Orioles in the 2018 Zack Britton trade and arriving in Baltimore last summer as a long reliever.
Tate said he focused on cleaning up elements of his delivery and on pitch design at Driveline, and credited the facility for helping familiarize him more with technology like Edgertronic cameras the Orioles began utilizing last season. Tate was first exposed to them in the Yankees’ system, but admits he was hesitant to incorporate data much into his work then. He now says he’s considering investing in a personal Rapsodo machine.
“I had to learn to buy-in to certain things,” Tate said. “I think one of the problems I had was, initially, I had to learn how to filter out certain information that was going to be good for me and information that wasn’t going to be conducive to my development. Sifting through that stuff was harder to do at first, but I’ve gotten better at it.”
Asked where the motivation to do so originated, Tate said “it comes from getting beat.”
“You go out there and you get hit around or your body doesn’t feel good, you start to figure out what is going in the right direction and what isn’t, and it's up to you to figure out how to turn that around or you need to ask and get help.”
So far this spring, the early returns are good. Tate is one of several on-the-bubble relievers pushing more established arms with solid springs, having logged three consecutive scoreless outings after a rocky debut. His best showing came in the middle innings of Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Braves, when Tate struck out two across two scoreless frames. His mid-90s sinker and ability to pitch multiple innings give the righty a unique profile in the scope of the O’s relief options.
“He looks a little more aggressive,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I like his mound presence. He looks more confident on the mound to me than he did last spring. That 95-mph sinker is a real weapon. It looks, to me, that he has more confidence in his offspeed stuff as well.”
Said Tate: “We’ll see what we end up getting this year, but I am more ready to go than ever and excited. I am excited and not scared. I am ready to do whatever it takes."