In 2009, the San Diego Padres drafted Donavan Tate, an athletic outfielder from Cartersville, Ga., with the third overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft. The First-Year Player Draft takes place in June, and there are over 40 rounds with over 1200 picks. Tate was a two-sport All-American in high school, also playing quarterback at Cartersville High School. He was going to take his talents to the University of North Carolina for both sports but instead chose to sign with the Padres out of high school.
Tate’s signing bonus was a whopping $6.7 million, indicating that the Padres had a lot of faith that Tate would one day emerge as a star player in San Diego. He was ranked as high as the 29th best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus in 2011.
Tate’s career did not start off hot. In 2010, he struggled in the Arizona Rookie League, the lowest level of American minor league baseball. A strong 2011 kept him on the map, but by 2012 he had yet to show the ability to hit Single-A pitching, which is still two levels below the major leagues. Although severe injuries probably hindered his ability to perform, Tate also struggled with substance abuse issues during his time in the minor leagues.
The Padres gave him one last shot in 2015, but he hit a dismal .211 in the California League, one the most hitter-friendly leagues in minor league baseball. After 2015, the Padres decided to part ways with their $6.7 million investment.
Tate never played a single game in the MLB, nor did he even reach AA for that matter. However, this story is not unique. Predicting which amateur athletes make good professional baseball players is like firing a bow and arrow in the dark — you have no idea if you’re going to hit the target or not. That is why baseball is the only sport with so many levels of developmental leagues and 40 rounds in its amateur draft. Around 10 percent of drafted players make the MLB.
What makes Tate’s story interesting is not that he failed to reach the bigs, but rather what he chooses to do now.
Currently, Tate is a quarterback for the University of Arizona Wildcats football team.
Even after seven seasons of professional baseball, the 27-year-old with a wife and three kids is now a college freshman at the University of Arizona majoring in pre-business.
NCAA Division I Football does not impose age limits for student-athletes. So it seems as long as a particular college allows a student to attend its institution, the student is allowed to play. Other examples of players who went from pro baseball to college football include Malcolm Holland, Chris Weinke, and Brandon Weeden.
In reality, the issue is not heavily debated in the sports world because the issue is a win-win for the teams and the players. At the end of the day, the players get a new opportunity at playing sports for a living and get to earn a college degree, even after already being unsuccessful in another sport. Many of these players have gone on to have successful careers in football. For example, Weeden ended up becoming the oldest player drafted in the first round at age 28 when the Browns drafted him in 2012.
Instead, the issue sheds more light on the lack of regulation in NCAA Division I Football. Although it is not a serious issue, it may not necessarily be fair to have grown men play football against still developing teenagers. This is also not a particularly new issue. Chris Weinke lead the Florida State Seminoles to a national title in 1999, and won the Heisman Trophy at 28 years old the following year. During the heyday of BYU football, there were concerns amongst their opponents that BYU held an unfair advantage because many of their players were much older, due to the fact that many are Mormon and had completed a two-year mission before entering the college. However, there is more to talent than just age. Alabama did make it to the National Championship Game last year with a freshman quarterback. Overall, this may just be a system of second chances for a select few athletes.