The Rangers took a native Texan with their 18th-round pick in this year's draft, selecting Lubbock native David Gates out of JUCO power Howard College in Big Spring. A 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander, Gates passed on an opportunity to attend the University of Houston by signing with the Rangers following his sophomore campaign.
The 20-year-old hurler pitched two seasons at Howard and made 16 appearances (14 starts) this past spring. He posted a 3.82 ERA in 75.1 innings, yielding 55 hits, walking 55, and striking out 62.
While Gates' secondary stuff is on the raw side, he's a power arm that touched 99 mph in short stints during fall scrimmages at Howard. As a starter this spring, he worked more between 90-95 mph with plus life. Gates profiles as a power reliever long term, and that's currently the role he's fulfilling with the rookie Surprise Rangers. Through three outings, he has permitted three runs (two earned) on four hits in three innings, walking one and striking out one. His fastball has worked between 92-93 mph in both appearances.
Following the draft, Lone Star Dugout sat down with Gates to discuss his background and approach to pitching.
Jason Cole: What were your thoughts on getting drafted by the Rangers?
David Gates: It's definitely an accomplishment. It's something that's pretty exciting, being from Lubbock, Texas and being a Texas kid. I think that's every kid's dream, to do it. I'm excited to get after it. Pro ball is what I have wanted to do for a long time, so when I got the opportunity, I had to jump at it.
Cole: Did you grow up as a Rangers fan?
?Gates: I did. I mean, that's the first game my dad took me to––the first pro game. I've been to more Rangers games than any other major-league team.
Cole: You had signed a letter of intent with the University of Houston, but you signed with the Rangers pretty quickly. How difficult of a decision was it for you to turn pro?
Gates: Going in the 18th round, a lot of people were telling me to go to the University of Houston and give it another year. But I didn't really care. They had their reason for where they picked me at, but they're giving me an opportunity. My gut was telling me, ‘Hey, you've got to get started, and this is what you want to do.' Everybody else is going out there and picking up the ball every day, so I felt like I was ready.
Cole: You just finished your sophomore year at Howard College. It's a junior college program that has earned a reputation for producing a lot of high-velocity arms in recent years. Tell me about playing there for the last two seasons.
Gates: Out of high school, I signed with Texas Tech and ended up signing with Howard. I was wanting to go to Howard, and I kind of listened to other people ahead of me that said, ‘Hey, try out Tech.' I tried it out for my first semester, and I didn't really feel like it was the place for me to develop as a pitcher. So I went to Howard––transferred there––and played the season there. And I wish I would have started college there.
I mean, coach (Britt) Smith, he's a good coach. He was a biomechanics major, so he really understands how the body works as a pitcher. He just turned me into a pretty explosive pitcher. Now I'm ready to get up there and work on some secondary stuff to go along with it––polish it off. But I mean, Coach Smith––I'd say he's the reason that we have got so many power arms that come out of there.
Cole: How much has your velocity jumped since high school?
Gates: I was a guy that could get up to 92 mph in high school. I mean, I have gotten up to 99 mph––I know for a fact––this year. They told me that I hit 101, but I don't know if I believe that. So it's a pretty big jump.
Cole: In terms of the secondary stuff, what do you have in your repertoire?
Gates: I was a guy that threw a curveball and changeup in high school, but when I had that big velo jump, Coach Smith had me start throwing a slider. So I've been throwing sliders and changeups.
I didn't throw the curveball at all this year. But I'm hoping that when I get with the Rangers' player development guys, they'll have me start throwing curveballs and start working on that again. I've got a splitter, too, that I've been working on. I'd say that I'm a four-pitch guy.
Cole: What would you say was your go-to secondary pitch this season? Which do you feel most comfortable with right now?
Gates: I'd honestly say the changeup as far as not being as timid to throw it. But the slider––I probably went to that more. I long tossed with my changeup; that's why I had such a good feel for it. But, I mean, I didn't really locate it the way I wanted to this year. I'd say either slider or changeup––just whatever day it was.
Cole: You mostly worked as a starter this year at Howard, correct?
Gates: Yes, but I'll probably be a guy that's in the bullpen, which I would love to do. I've never done that before, so I'm pretty excited if that's what they want me to do. But yeah, I had been starting games for us.
Cole: What is it about the prospect of potentially pitching out of the bullpen in pro ball that excites you?
Gates: I'm a guy that can be 95 to 99 or 100 out of the bullpen––when I can go out there and just ramp it up for one or two innings. So I think that's where I might be a little more effective. As a starter, I dropped down to 92-95 and touching 6s and 7s. But I think that sprinting out there from the bullpen to the mound and being able to gas it up and pitch two or three times per week––that's pretty exciting to me.
Cole: Jay Eddings was your area scout at Howard College. How much contact have you had with him over the years, whether it be in high school or college?
Gates: Randy Taylor was the guy that saw me in high school at the Area Code stuff. I never really talked to Jay. But these last two years at Howard, he has seen me. And then I went to a workout in the fall that he invited me to at the Ballpark in Arlington. That's when they first saw me. They invited me back to another workout about five or six days before the draft. I mean, we were in communication mostly just this year.
Cole: Tell me about the workout right before the draft. Obviously you knew that you were on the Rangers' radar at that point. But what was it like getting to throw a bullpen at Rangers Ballpark just a few days before the draft?
Gates: Well, the workout right before the draft was at the Frisco RoughRiders' ballpark. So that was pretty cool. But the one at Rangers Ballpark in the fall, that was pretty cool as well. There were like 30 guys there.
It's a little different––the only times I've been there were when 40,000 or 45,000 people were in the stands. But I mean, it's pretty cool. When I got up there on the mound, it was nice to be able to lock in and see all those guys watching me throw. It's just exciting.
Cole: From what you noticed, did the Rangers end up taking anybody else that was at those workouts?
Gates: I know they drafted a kid from Western Oklahoma (Sherman Lacrus). I think he's a Latin kid. He's pretty special, I think.
Cole: I've driven through Big Spring in the past, and obviously there isn't a lot to do there aside from go to school and play baseball. Talk about going to school in a small town like that in the middle of nowhere. I know you're a West Texas guy, but is it easier to focus on baseball, knowing that you're in a town where there isn't a whole lot to do?
Gates: I feel like that's one of the reasons I went there. Growing up in Lubbock my whole life, it's a big college town and there are a lot of distractions and stuff. That's not really the type of kid that I want to be. I don't want to surround myself around that stuff.
Going to college and having fun is great and all, but I went to college because I wanted to develop as a pitcher. And being in Big Spring––that's all we had to do was go grab some food, go to practice, or be in your dorm. So when you're out there on the field, it's all about developing. That's how Howard is.
Cole: As you look forward to your summer in the Arizona League, is there anything that you're looking to develop and work on in particular?
Gates: Yeah. Last summer, I stayed in Big Spring all summer and worked on my delivery with my coach. I'm just ready to get out there and see what the player development guys have to say. I think that they want me to stay over the rubber a little bit longer. In high school, I was a big leg kick guy. And so I think they're going to bring a little bit of that leg kick back. I mean, the whole focus at Howard was creating momentum. I think I've got that part down, so now I'm ready for those guys to fine-tune my delivery, and I think it will be pretty special after that.
Q&A with Rangers 18th-round pick David Gates
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