This was the year for the Tampa Bay Rays to select a college starting pitcher in the first round. We can clearly see, however, that the Rays saw a talent on the board that was good enough to steer them away from that strategy. Garrett Whitley, an outfielder out of Niskayuna High School in New York, drew George Springer comparisons a few weeks ago and someone dropped a Mike Trout comp on MLB Network. The upside that comes with him is unbelievable, and he might just be the player that makes people forget about previous failed Rays picks.
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Whitley, an athletic 6’2″ and 200 pounds, can do it all. He combines incredible bat speed and foot speed with impressive power potential and the defensive chops to remain in centerfield. What is crazy, though, is how advanced of a plate approach he has coming out of a cold weather environment in New York. There are so many players drafted out of California, Florida, and Texas, where they get to play baseball the entire year. Whitley was instead dealing with serious snow in the winter and even a bit in the fall and the spring. He could have fooled most scouts that saw him as he recognized breaking balls and changeups left and right.
We can look at all of the recent high school players that the Rays have selected in the first round like Nick Ciuffo, Taylor Guerrieri, Tyler Goeddel, Josh Sale, and Justin O’Conner and see how Whitley is something a notch above. Whitley, ranked as high as the seventh best prospect in the draft by Baseball America, has a flaw, but an extremely minor one–his arm strength, which isn’t a big deal considering that he will stick in centerfield. There are no pitch recognition issues, attitude problems, lack of power, or inability to remain at a premium position. He does it all.
The dream with Whitley is a player who can hit 30 home runs and swipe 30 bases while hitting for a high average, getting on-base, and playing an above-average defensive centerfield. If that sounds crazy, it certainly is. And when you have that type of upside, you don’t need everything to work out. If his pitch recognition is good enough but his power doesn’t develop, he will still be the best all-around centerfielder the Rays have had in a long time. If he needs to be more aggressive to hit the ball with authority, he still has a chance to turn into the next Adam Jones.
Whitley is considered advanced for a high school player, but the Tampa Bay Rays will be careful with him nonetheless. Unfortunately for them, he may simply play too well for them to leave him at A-ball for long. There is always risk for a high school player, but the Rays look at the pitch recognition and see a player with a much better chance than most of becoming a major leaguer and a great one. It’s time to get excited about Garrett Whitley.
Click this link to read our other 2015 Tampa Bay Rays MLB Draft profiles.