Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tate suspended

Is the $6.25 million the Padres guaranteed to Donavan Tate starting to look like the $3.15 million the Padres spent on Matt Bush, a fellow top-3 pick in the draft?

West Coast Bias doesn't hear a flushing sound just yet.

But Tate is serving a 50-game suspension for a "drug of abuse" violation, major league baseball announced today. The drug is Spice, a synthetic cannabis. Tate also tested positive for a "drug of abuse" sometime between when the Padres signed him in August 2009 and the start of this season. After a first positive test, a player is told he will be subjected to additional tests, beyond the random tests for all players.

Tate received drug counseling earlier this season, so MLB credited him for 25 games served.

Tate is 20 years old. Who knows, this time next year, he might be headed to Double-A and talking of how the drug counseling and suspension benefited him no end.

Bush twice was arrested for altercations off the field. After the second, he said alcohol fueled his bad behavior. His first arrest came a week after the Padres signed him.

Starting in 2005, in response to Bush's problems, upper Padres management freed up money for the psychological profiling of draftees. This paid dividends, scouting director Bill Gayton said, in the drafts that followed.

West Coast Bias heard last year that Tate was behaving in ways that recalled Bush. Not to the same extent, but enough to make people nervous.

When the Tate story broke today, the Padres wondered how much of a public relations hit they would take, both in San Diego and elsewhere. Where Padres first-round picks are concerned, WCB would shrug if one of them eloped with Lindsay Lohan, or chose to become a Jai-Alai player, or took up llama farming. So many Padres first-rounders drafted since 1995 have gone bust in such a variety of ways that WCB called on Tony Gwynn -- a third-round pick of the Padres -- to break the hex in May 2010. It's too early to know whether Mr. Padre saved the three first-round draftees that followed. For what it's worth, Gwynn watched video of Cory Spangenberg, the team's first pick in the recent draft, and liked what he saw leading up to the draft. (Many years ago, after watching a fresh Padres first-rounder take batting practice, Gwynn shook his head, sad and skeptical. The player washed out in the minors.) "I like how Spangenberg sets up and takes a swing," Gwynn told WCB today. "And it looks like he does it the same way every time, which is good."

Spangenberg and Tate are teammates with the Eugene Emeralds, a short-season club; in 11 games, Tate batted .286 with four doubles and three triples. "One of the best teammates I have ever had," Spangenberg said of Tate, Milb.com reported.

Bush didn't prompt endorsements of that sort.

When the Padres drafted Tate third overall, Jeff Moorad, the team's owner in waiting, was 10 weeks into his job as Padres CEO. Moorad was more willing than Padres owner John Moores to approve the drafting of players advised by agent Scott Boras. Moores had said Padres in-house research showed that Boras draftees were a "bad bet." (Boras cited contrary data.) Moores and Boras also clashed in the Kevin Brown talks of late 1998, during which Brown, a Padres free agent, lectured Moores at a San Diego restaurant.

Moorad, a former agent, related with Boras. Under Moorad, the Padres have drafted several Boras players, including UCLA recruit Austin Hedges in the second round this year.

Not taking a Boras player was part of the Bush debacle, which is recalled here, just because headaches are so much fun to relive. Leading up the 2004 draft, Padres scouts ranked two Boras draftees -- Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver -- as the top players in that order. Moores didn't veto those players, but he asked Kevin Towers pointed questions about the cost. Moores was against giving out a major league contract to a draftee. (The Padres gave a major league contract to Boras draftee Xavier Nady in 2000).

Padres scouts recommended Tate as the top player available for the No. 3 pick, and Moorad didn't gag over the $6 million pricetag that Boras set leading up to the draft. Tate's football scholarship to North Carolina gave Boras extra leverage, but Tate's duel-sport status allowed the Padres to spread the $6.25 million over five year. The sum nonetheless shattered the club record for an amateur player, set with Bush in 2004. It was Moorad who advised Bush in 2004, another footnote in As The Padres World Turns.