SAN DIEGO -- After a series of setbacks, including a myriad of injuries and illnesses, it appears outfielder Donavan Tate, the Padres' first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has finally found his footing as a professional.
Tate, the No. 3 overall pick in 2009, was named Most Valuable Player of the Padres' 25-day instructional league program that is held annually in Arizona for top prospects in the Padres' Minor League system.
The 20-year-old Tate, who signed for a club-record $6.25 million signing bonus, hit .435 with one home run and five RBIs in seven games against other clubs and also excelled in situational hitting and defensive drills, according to Randy Smith, the Padres director of player development.
"His confidence and comfort level at the end of the program was significantly different than it was before," Smith said on Wednesday. "He looked like a different kid. We had him hit third every day.
"He went out and took advantage of the instruction and [the] opportunity to play every day."
Tate, who didn't make his professional debut until this season, was limited to 25 games in Arizona with the Padres' rookie-level entry in the Arizona League. He missed time because of an extended bout with the flu, losing 15 pounds.
"He had bunch of tests," Smith said. "It was just a real bad bug. We just couldn't get rid of it for six weeks."
Tate hit .222 in 90 at-bats with two home runs and 10 RBIs and 41 strikeouts in the 25 games he played in before the illness.
Healthy again this fall and having gained back the 15 pounds he lost, Tate impressed the Padres in just about every facet of the game during the instructional league.
"That was fantastic," Smith said. "To me, the most important thing was that he was on the field almost every day. There was only one game where he didn't get a hit, and he really improved leaps and bounds, especially on defense.
"It was great to have him on the field for three-and-a-half weeks."
The Padres have been waiting for Tate to be healthy enough to get on the field.
Since signing with the team, Tate has dealt with concussion-like symptoms, a sports hernia, a jaw surgery that followed an ATV accident last fall, a shoulder problem and thumb injuries that preceded the illness that sidelined him last summer.
Smith said that Tate will likely open the 2011 season with Fort Wayne of the Midwest League.
"That should be his plan," Smith said. "But, again, he's got to go out and earn that."