No member of the 2012 TinCaps has more to prove than Donavan Tate.
He was a $6 million bonus baby in 2009, signed out of high school and loaded with major expectations. But a series of injuries has limited his playing time, and he also served a 50-game suspension last year for a drug violation involving synthetic marijuana.
So Tate needs to prove that 1) he can stay healthy; and 2) he's grown up.
TinCaps manager Jose Valentin believes Tate can do both.
“He's a brand-new guy,” Valentin said Monday as the team took its first look at Parkview Field. “He's happy, and in spring training he was one of those guys going out there early and one of the last to leave the stadium. He wants to prove a lot of people wrong and show he's a great player.”
Tate, 21, will play center field and possibly right field on a daily basis for the TinCaps, who open their season at home against the Lake County Captains at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Parkview Field.
The knee injury he suffered last April in an outfield collision has healed. Off-season surgery on his wrist has healed. He feels he has his head in the right frame of mind.
“There's always going to be pressure,” Tate said. “Pressure you put on yourself, pressure everybody else has for you. You can't really think about that. Maybe a little in the past I thought about that and let it get to me a little bit.”
Tate, out of Cartersville, Ga., turned down a scholarship to play football and baseball at the University of North Carolina to sign with the San Diego Padres. He played in 25 games in the Arizona League in 2010, hampered by a sports hernia, broken jaw and sprained shoulder. He played six games with Fort Wayne and 33 games at Eugene in 2011. He hit .283 at Eugene after his early .316 with Fort Wayne.
Tate is eager to show his new-and-improved physical and mental shape with the TinCaps.
“In the past, I haven't been as physically in shape as I felt I should have been,” Tate said. “Now I'm good. There's a huge difference in the way my body is reacting and how I'm feeling rested. My body has felt good on the field every day.”
He says he has also put his suspension behind him, and thanked the Padres' organization for sticking with him.
“I don't get too much into it, but it was just a dumb decision, not being very mature,” Tate said. “That's all taken care of and I'm ready to focus on the things I want to focus on this year.”
Valentin minces no words when talking about the young outfielder's need to produce.
“There's a lot of money in that kid,” Valentin said. “They really want him to put that value up.”
On the other hand, Valentin says he has emphasized that Tate should not feel like there is an extra load on his shoulders.
“I told him I don't want to see him try to carry the team by himself,” Valentin said. “Go out, have fun, play the game the way you know how and we'll let you know in certain situations what to do.”
Valentin emphasized Tate will be counted on to deliver some quality play this summer.
“We need him and he knows his teammates need him every day,” Valentin said. “He's happy to be back here and I'm happy to have him on my team.”