Padres' 2011 NWL Player of the Year

Tate had a better year than most believe

Summary: Eugene had one of their more talented teams in a long time ending up with the best overall record in the Northwest League at 46-30. Early in the season, they reeled off fourteen wins in a row, but went down to Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs.

The Padres' 2011 number one draft pick Cory Spangenberg signed early and was out of the Northwest League in a month after hitting .384/.545/.535. While center fielder Donavan Tate garnered negative publicity for off-the-field problems, he put up some impressive numbers in limited playing time. The team also got strong performances by late draft picks 2B/OF Justin Miller, 2B/3B Travis Whitmore and SS Casey McElroy.

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we took into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.

(Because Cory Spangenberg played more games at Fort Wayne than Eugene he will be included in the Midwest League portion of the player of the year series).

Level: The Northwest League has existed in various forms since 1901. It features a mix of college talent acquired in the current draft, as well as high school and Latin American prospects who worked their way up from rookie ball. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters in this circuit since the batters must transition from aluminum bats to wood.

John Conniff

Player of the Year: CF Donavan Tate .283/.406/.409

I know, I know. Everyone wants to label the number three overall pick in 2009 a bust and his suspension for drugs which cost him a month of playing time was stupid. But he did put up some solid numbers for the time that he was on the field. He finished third on the team in on-base percentage and stole 17 bases in 22 attempts, which was good enough for second despite only playing in thirty-three games.

Tate's biggest improvement is that he dramatically cut down on his strikeouts with a 25/32 BB/K ratio in 152 plate appearances while playing a very good center field.

Runner-up: Travis Whitmore 3B .297/.373/.431

Whitmore, 23, was a senior sign and 35th-round draft pick of the Padres in 2011 out of the University of Pittsburgh.

He made the post-season all-star team and saw action at three different infield positions this summer. Whitmore finished second on the Ems in hits and extra-base hits. He attended Indian Hills Community College his first two years, the same school that Spangenberg is from, and hit .336/.384/.488 as a senior at Pitt.

Ben Davey

Player of the Year: CF Donavan Tate

John said it pretty well. The Ems struggled to get consistent offensive support and Tate, 20, was one of the few players who hit game in game out. When Tate was suspended the offense was lifeless. To me, that shows who the player of the year was.

Also impressive was that Tate was leading the Northwest League in triples with three when he was suspended. When he returned a month later, he was still in the lead.

Runner-up: OF/2B Justin Miller .308/.409/.400

Justin Miller, 22, was promoted to Eugene after hitting .407/.476/.574 in Peoria and went on to hit in 25 of his first 28 games. Drafted as an outfielder, he played most of his games at second and did it pretty well. Miller's promotion, which coincided with Spangenberg's, made the sting of losing Corey less painful for the Emeralds.

David Jay

Player of the Year: Donavan Tate

The fluke injuries, delayed progress and indescribable stupidity of getting caught with synthetic pot notwithstanding, Tate was just a few plate appearances short of qualifying for the league's best on-base percentage. He's cut his strikeout rate significantly, displayed good instincts on the basepaths, and flashed good leather in center.

Assuming he doesn't do anything stupid – not a given with his track record – he could start 2012 in Elsinore, where he, Rymer Liriano and Luis Domoromo would constitute the most dynamic outfield the Padres have fielded at any level in at least 30 years.

Runner-up: Casey McElroy .301/.381/.466

Taken in the 11th round out of Auburn, the bat-first middle infielder didn't sign until early August and needed a week in Arizona before finally arriving in Oregon. The club issued a six-figure bonus to get him in the fold, and once he got to Eugene, he hit well in limited play.

He has surprising pop for a guy his size and definitely has the ability to stay on the middle infield as he moves forward.

Others of Note: Supplemental first-rounder Jace Peterson is a remarkable athlete (witness the 39 stolen bases in 73 games), but has plenty of work to turn all those tools into skills. He will bear watching in the Midwest League next year. 2010 draftee Jose Dore had a supremely disappointing season, but doesn't turn 20 until next year and has a sweet left-handed swing when he's on. Nine of West Point grad Clint Moore's 12 hits went for extra-bases, although the infielder's pending military commitment makes his future with the organization unclear. Catcher Matt Colantonio, a 22nd-round pick out of Brown, managed to draw nearly as many walks (30) as hits (39) in 53 games. The Padres hope he can follow in the footsteps of another former Ivy League catcher who debuted for the club in 1994.

MadFriars' 2011 Eugene Emeralds Player of the Year: Donavan Tate

Top Prospect: Donavan Tate (Unanimous)

When he was drafted, the question was on his hit tool and whether the ersatz-quarterback would make enough contact going forward. He really has worked hard to address that concern. Unfortunately, Donavan Tate's biggest obstacle as a prospect appears to be Donavan Tate.

The new front office certainly can't have enjoyed writing a check for the final installment of Tate's team-record signing bonus while he was suspended, and probably weren't much happier with the latest injury in August. But he remains one of the most gifted athletes in the minors and showed hints of what is possible when on the field this year.

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