NCT’s Gates garners prep ‘Triple Crown’ en route repeat Player of the Year laurels

Jonathan Gates
NCT junior Jonathan “J.P.” Gates voted Hernando County’s 2017 Baseball Player of the Year.                    Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
BASEBALL

Third-year Shark batted a

Hernando County-best

.478 with 10 HRs, 45 RBI

BY TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

Across 148 years of Major League Baseball, one of the rarest sights is the crowning of a Triple Crown champion.

Major League BaseballOnly 16 previous times has any major leaguer led the league in the same season in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.

Carl Yastrzemski
Carl Yastrzemski

The 14 players who have achieved the feat represent a Who’s Who of the Hall of Famers inducted into Cooperstown, NY, including Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb.

The last major leaguer to accomplish the feat Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in 2012 isn’t in Cooperstown yet, but is working on polishing his bust.

Locally, Nature Coast Technical’s Jonathan Patrick or “J.P.” Gates did the impossible leading all Hernando County prep batters in hitting (.478), homers (10) and RBI (45) en route to his unanimous repeat selection as HernandoSport.com’s Baseball Player of the Year.

Jonathan Gates
Jonathan Gates

By no means did the Sharks pitcher/first baseman earn the recognition solely on his exploits at the plate.

It didn’t hurt that Gates mounted a league-best .568 onbase percentage or led the circuit with a .911 slugging percentage.

On the bump, area coaches witnessed the southpaw pace the circuit in starts (12), innings pitched (55.0), wins (7) and shutouts (1), while finishing runner-up in earned run average (0.89). He restricted opposing batters to a collective .141 batting average.

In all, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, led the way for the 19-10 Brooksville nine to its second straight 5A-7 title and a berth in the Class 5A, Region II semifinal.

 Jonathan Gates Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Jonathan Gates                                                                                             Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Gates 101

J.P. was born in Key West, is the oldest of two sons to Jonathan and Jennifer Gates.

The Gates family has called Brooksville home for the past 12 years, or since relocating from Conch Country.

Gates debuted in Spring Hill Dixie Baseball at 6 and played two seasons before broadening his skill set on the local travel ball circuit.

Originally a centerfielder, Gates switched to first base almost nine years ago.

The left-handed Gates began pitching prior to turning 10.

On his approach at the plate, he’s simply trying to hit the ball where it’s pitched.

When he’s on the bump, there’s a sense he’s the King of the Hill.

“I feel the team has the most confidence in me when I’m pitching,” admits the brown-tressed and hazel-eyed Gates. “Typically, I get four of my five pitches over for strikes. I throw a two-seam and four-seam fastball and a slider that runs into right-handed batters.”

Gates wasn’t always on the diamond.

Challenger K-8 Navigators
Challenger K-8 Navigators

In middle school at Challenger K-8, he played quarterback, safety, cornerback and outside linebacker as a sixth- and seventh-grader for the Navigators under Brett Teitelman.

In hoops (he still has a basketball hoop at home), he served as a point guard for three seasons for Challenger K-8.

In recreational soccer, he switched from striker to goalkeeper.

As a freshman on the California Street campus, he broke in batting .284 with 21 hits in 22 games, featuring 11 extra-base hits and 17 runs batted in.

On the hill, he fanned 40 batters in 39 innings going 2-4.

After continuing to play for his FTB (Florida Travel Ball) team guided by Julian Figuero during the off-season, he elevated his game behind a breakout season.

In 2016 on the bump, he started 11 times with two complete games.

He tossed 62.0 innings and fanned a county-best 98 batters against 20 walks, a nearly 5:1 ratio in punch outs to free passes.

Jonathan Gates Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Jonathan Gates                                             Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Gates finished 6-0 with a circuit-best 0.56 earned run average.

Opposing batters hitters hit a miniscule .124. In facing 243 batters, no one tripled or homered off Gates.

With his glove on the mound or at first base, Gates handled 77 chances without an error.

At the plate, Gates was a terror. He paced the Sharks in hitting (.486), on-base percentage (.581) and slugging percentage (.864) behind a county-high 36 hits in 74 at-bats.

Gates raked a county-high 19 extra-base hits and led the circuit in doubles (14) and home runs (4), and runs batted in (43).

Besides finishing third in the circuit in runs scored (28), he stole 17 bases in 17 attempts.

His one shutout was a dandy, a no-hitter in the 5A-7 semifinal to expunge defending champion Central at Emerson Field, 2-0.

The season concluded with the Sharks capturing its first Hernando County crown since 2009, its first-ever district championship and matched Springstead in victories finishing 20-5.

Jonathan Gates Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Jonathan Gates                                                                                      Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Praising Gates

Area coaches praised Gates’ consistently stellar efforts.

Frank Vitale
Frank Vitale

“The one thing that stood out in my mind was how he dominated offensively and stood out pitching-wise … The moment is never too big for him,” emphasized NCT’s third-year mentor Frank Vitale. “J.P. does things quietly; he lets his actions do his talking … He put up nearly the same numbers from the year before, but added power … He’s a special player that doesn’t come around too much … Next year in his fourth varsity season, I’d like him to be more of a vocal leader and just maintain his consistency.”

“J.P. has it all from top to bottom … We tried to get him out and he went 6-for-7 (plus two walks) against us and he belted two bombs,” detailed Hernando County’s Coach of the Year Shawn Laferty of Springstead. “There is no doubt about his commitment to baseball … He’s the type of player that can beat you on the mound or at the plate … That arm is special.”

Tim Sims Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Tim Sims                           Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“He’s one of the most disciplined juniors in the state … His baseball IQ is off the chart,” admitted 22nd-year Hernando High mentor Tim Sims. “He receives coaching well and makes adjustments … There are some good arms around here; he happens to be the top arm … He’s not just a P.O. (pitcher only) … He’s a difference maker.”

“Gates is a very special player … He impacts every game he plays,” offered Weeki Wachee’s seventh-year mentor Patrick McHugh. “He can beat you with his bat or on the mound … The kid threw a perfect game and also hit 10 homers, too … He’s such a disciplined hitter … He looks for that one mistake.”

“J.P. is a cut above everybody else … There are guys who have had good seasons, but not on both sides,” declared Central’s Al Sorrentino, who completed his eighth campaign as a head coach. “I should know, he no-hit us in 2016 and threw a perfect game on us this year … As a pitcher and a hitter, no one dominates both sides like he does.”

Jonathan Gates. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Jonathan Gates. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Reacting to his selection as POY, “It was amazing. It was a close battle with Weeki Wachee’s Dalton) Mosser and (Springstead’s Johnny) Oliveira. We all go back a few years.

“…Getting it last year was a lot harder,” described Gates. “There were more seniors. I think I had a better season. I was seeing the ball better. I anticipated what was going to happen.”

“Hitting-wise, I was taking the ball deep and putting the ball in play more. My patience paid off,” he said. “When I pitched, I threw a few more walks this year.”

Nature Coast catcher Brandon Riera Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Nature Coast catcher Brandon Riera            Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Noting the difference between his sophomore and junior campaigns, “I hit the weights a lot more,” noted Gates. “I was more aggressive. (His catcher) Brandon (Riera) kept me calm and collected. We have a real good relationship as pitcher-catcher. We joke around and have fun.”

Looking back at his season-ending loss at Bishop Moore, 2-1, “They tried to bust me in with that nasty slider, but I was ready,” explained Gates, who accounted for Sharks’ only run with a solo homer.

Coincidentally, the round-tripper served as his career 100th hit. The RBI was his school leading 105th to date.

“We should’ve won that game,” pressed Gates. “We didn’t succeed in executing in certain scenarios.”

On which district crown was more difficult, “Winning this year was harder. We came in as the third seed,“ said Gates. “Last year was easier coming in as the top seed.”

Rewinding the season

“The low point of the season was our beginning,” explained Gates without hesitation. “We got hot at the end. What helped? We struck out less and got hot.”

In the common thread in both regional losses in 2016-17, “We couldn‘t put the ball in play when we needed to and we had some bad base running mistakes,” rendered Gates.

On Gates becoming more of a vocal leader, “Since I’ve been here, I wasn’t going to over step the seniors. No one took me seriously when I said stuff. I’m more of a leader by example,” offered Gates.

Looking ahead

“I want to leave with bang,” stressed Gates. “I’d like to go out with a little better record. It’s our last time together. We all want a ring.”

On the keys to success, “We’re gonna have to stay healthy. I think Jon (McMath) will rise up and become our No. 2 pitcher,” said Gates. “We’ve got a lot of guys back. We’ve got to get the new kids comfortable“”

Under Armour
Under Armour

Gates is pointing toward the Under Armour Showcase in San Diego on Aug. 13. He’ll also be trying out for Team USA Under-18.

He expects to continue playing FTB during the summer.

In between, he’ll continue to lift weights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to strengthen his upper body and core. He plans on doing cardio workouts by swimming on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Gates, who maintains a 3.0 grade point average in the commercial arts cluster, plans to also continue doing community service mentoring younger players like the 10-12-year War Hawks team.

He readily admits he’ll miss his best friend on the team, southpaw Brandon Santiago, who graduated.

Brandon Santiago Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Brandon Santiago                 Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“Late in the season, Brandon slept over prior to a game and he pitched great. After that, he stayed over before each game we played. He was like another brother to me. I’m gonna miss him,” said Gates.

By the Numbers: Nature Coast Technical’s Jonathan “J.P.” Gates (2015-17)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

HITTING

Jonathan Gates Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Jonathan Gates                                     Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 YEAR  GP  AB  R  H 2B 3B  HR RBI  .AVG

2015

22

74

9

21

8

2

1

17

.284

2016

25

74

28

36

14

1

4

43

.486

2017

29

90

27

43

9

0

10

45

.478

 TOTALS 76  238 64  100 31 3  15  105  .420

PITCHING

 YEAR  AP  GS CG  IP H R ER BB KO SO  W L ERA

2015

9

9

2

39.0

37

25

16

17

40

0

2

4

2.87

2016

13

11

2

62.0

27

12

5

20

98

1

6

0

0.56

2017

12

12

1

55.0

28

19

7

26

114

1

7

1

0.89

 TOTALS  34  32 5  156.0 92 56 28 63 252 2 15 5 1.25

 

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