Gates looks to deal at PGAAC

Photo: Perfect Game

Steven Walters
Published: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Perfect Game All-American Jonathan Gates has been making a name for himself over the past few years, dominating on the mound and at the plate at Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville, Fla.

The program turned over the coaching staff in 2015, bringing in Frank Vitale to rejuvenate a program that had endured losing seasons from 2010-2014. Although 2015 was another rough season for the Sharks, who went 6-15, Gates thrived on the mound and at the plate as a freshman, posting a .309 average with 11 extra-base hits, while pitching to an ERA of 2.94. It would be just the beginning of a turnaround of the program, and Vitale knew from the very beginning that Gates had what it took to be successful.

“He played fall baseball with us, and I knew after watching him play just one game, I knew he could go out there with the varsity kids. I’ve been coaching a long time, so I’ve had other kids excel at that age too with the varsity, and I don’t have anything against freshman playing varsity as long as they can handle it mentally as well as physically,” Vitale said. “So, when he started working out with us and playing fall baseball, I knew that he would be able to handle it just by not just the physical part, because he was physically ready to play, it was the mental part of it that was stand out.”

The team broke the losing streak in 2016, going 20-5. They won their district championship and played their way to the regional quarterfinals. On the mound, Gates went 6-0 with a 0.56 ERA and fell just short of 100 strikeouts, striking out 98 in 62 innings. At the plate, the lefty also paced the squad, hitting .468 with four home runs, 43 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.

“We started off, it wasn’t really like a baseball background. We had a new coach, so we didn’t know [what to expect]. We basically made Nature Coast a name at that high school. We put ourselves on the map. We’ve had our struggles here and there, but were a really good team when we get together and play as a team,” Gates said.

Gates would notch a no-hitter in the district tournament against the Central Bears, coming close to a perfect game, but was hurt by an error. Although he could have become upset over losing the perfect game, he did not let it affect him and competed the rest of the way for the win.

“I think a part of his best attributes as a pitcher is that he doesn’t let certain situations get to him, like if a kid makes an error in the field, you don’t know that there’s something wrong with him, so he’s got that straight face down on the field where he’s out there and you don’t know whether he’s winning or losing when he’s out there pitching,” Vitale said.

Coming into 2017, Central High School was on the schedule early in the season, and Gates, knowing the lineup, looked to repeat his performance and pick up his teammates behind him. Gates took it to them, pitching a perfect game, while striking out all 15 batters that he faced. The offense scored 10 runs in support, ending the game after just five innings.

“I was just locked in that game, came out and I threw the game of my life basically,” Gates said.

“So, we got the 10th run on a walk-off and he finished out on a 10-0 win with 15 strikeouts, which is ridiculous,” Vitale said. “I mean, I’ve seen perfect games before in high school, I’ve heard about kids around the country who are throwing 21 strikeouts in seven innings, but to watch it and see it first hand was really, really something special, probably something I’ll never forget.”

Nature Coast finished the season 19-10, making it to the region semifinals and solidifying their program as a force to be reckoned with. Gates hit .478 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs and posted an ERA of 0.89 with 114 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched on the mound, continuing to make improvements in his game.

The No. 23 overall player and the No. 3 lefthanded pitcher in the class of 2018 features a deliberate delivery on the mound, and throws four pitches for strikes. He said his best pitch is his tight slider, and accompanies that with a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball and a changeup. The changeup has been a pitch that he has developed in high school, and Vitale pointed to it being a strong contributor to his success.

“He’s been working on a changeup. His freshman year he didn’t have it at all, it was a pitch that he rarely threw,” Vitale said. “He started working on it and as a sophomore he threw it a little more, and then last year as a junior, he was probably throwing about seven to 10 changeups over the course of a game.”

Even though he has succeeded on the mound, the 6-foot-2, 189-pound lefty does not possess the high-90s fastball that others who have had this type of success do, sitting in the low-90s, but makes an effort to pitch instead of throw.

“Well I don’t throw 96-97 or overpower anyone, so I obviously know I’m not going to blow anything by someone,” Gates said. “A lot of these guys can hit the fastball, so you have to work the count with different pitches and I’m smart with my pitches. All of them move differently, so it helps me when I have control of all of them and I have them off-balance, knowing that I’m switching up the count at them, instead of just fastballs all the time.”

Even though his pitching has garnered much of the attention, the lefthanded hitting Gates has shown some two-way potential after posting three terrific high school campaigns at the plate. Gates has shown good power in the batter’s box and said that he takes pride in making contact and putting the ball in play, evidenced by him walking 18 times and striking out only 12 in 111 plate appearances in his junior season.

“It’s amazing because teams know him in the area, and they pitch around him and he still hits the ball,” Vitale said. “Last year he had 10 home runs, so that’s a lot of home runs for high school especially when teams are pitching around you. He’s still able to hit the ball the other way. Most teams just pitch outside on him and not come in, and he still hits the ball out the other way.”

The University of Miami took notice of the talent of Gates and were able to gain a verbal commitment from the lefty, who resides in Brooksville, Fla., about an hour north of Tampa. Originally born in Key West, Gates still has family there, so being able to play closer to his relatives and family was a big reason behind his commitment.

“I’ve always been a huge Miami fan, and I thought since a lot of my family from Key West doesn’t get to see me play, it would be better if I’m five hours away than 13, 20 hours away and need a plane flight, so I’m only a drive away,” Gates said. “Miami is a really, really good baseball school and academically, too, so that played into it as well.”

In June, The No. 8 ranked player in Florida in the class of 2018 ventured to the southwest part of the state, making the two-hour, 45-minute trek down to Fort Myers, Fla., for the PG National Showcase at JetBlue Park. There, he continued to make a name for himself while facing some of the best players in the country and punched out all six batters that he faced in his outing, reaching 92 mph with his fastball and showcasing good command of his pitches. The 17-year-old is no stranger to the showcase circuit, playing in dozens of PG events with Florida Travel Baseball over the past three years, and knows what it takes to compete against the best.

“It was difficult because there were a lot of guys there with a lot of great talent, and I knew it was going to be hard to become an All-American, so I just went out there and did the best that I could against all the great talent they had out there,” Gates said.

In the weeks following, Gates would receive the phone call of his nomination to the PGAAC while he was with his family and was able to share the special moment with the people who have put in a lot of time and effort for him. Three of his FTB Tucci 55 teammates were also named to the game, including Nander De Sedas, Austin Wells and Preston Hartsell, which will allow him to share the experience with a few members of his baseball family.

Gates said that he has watched the game in the past and is excited for the whole weekend of activities with new and familiar faces.

“Mostly just going to the hospital and seeing all the kids and being in the game of course, but just having fun with a bunch of guys there that want the same journey and job that I do,” Gates said. “I’ve watched it in the past. I’ve always been like, ‘I want to do that, I want to be there.’”

The event will be a nice kick-off to the 2017-18 school year for the Nature Coast senior, who is looking to continue his dominance on the mound against some of the best competition in the country.

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