Tampa Bay Rays: Garrett Whitley’s Journey Begins in the GCL

By Robbie Knopf

There was no question that the Tampa Bay Rays were going to sign first round pick Garrett Whitley, but it is always a comfort to know that the deal is actually done. The Rays have signed Whitley, giving him the full $2,962,100 slot bonus for the 13th overall pick, and have assigned him to the GCL Rays at Rookie ball, where he will join their other precocious young talent, shortstop Adrian Rondon. Whitley is the most exciting high school player to enter the Rays’ system since Tim Beckham in 2008, but already we can say that the Rays are approaching his development differently than Beckham’s.

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Beckham was initially assigned to the Advanced Rookie Princeton Rays, and though he didn’t play well, managing just a .642 OPS, the Tampa Bay Rays still promoted him to Short Season-A Hudson Valley for the end of the season. They even moved him up to Low-A Bowling Green for the 2009 season. They let his draft slot dictate where he should play more than his performance. Although proceeding with him more slowly would not have turned him into the player the Rays thought they were getting at first overall and didn’t, it could have only helped his future for him not to have been rushed to full-season ball.

The Rays are immediately demonstrating a different approach with Garrett Whitley as they send him to the Gulf Coast League. They know that he is more talented than Josh Sale, Justin O’Conner, or Tyler Goeddel ever was, and they know that he may force their hand by hitting extremely well in the lower minors. However, if he struggles, they are going to be patient rather than assuming. They know that he can turn into something special, and they will do everything they can to ensure that he gets there. If that takes a little time, that would be absolutely fine.

In regards to keeping players or trading them, a common refrain is “Better one year too early than one year to late.” When it comes to bringing up prospects in the minor leagues, the philosophy should really be the opposite. If a player should have been promoted but isn’t, the worst-case scenario is that he dominates for a few weeks or months, gains some confidence, and then goes to the proper level. Look at Blake Snell and Casey Gillaspie this season! On the other hand, if he goes up to the next level too soon and struggles, that helps no one.

Garrett Whitley can do everything. He shows incredible bat speed, pitch recognition, power potential, foot speed, and defensive ability in centerfield. And the fact that he is being sent to the GCL signals that the Tampa Bay Rays treasure those abilities rather than have any concern about them. Whitley comes with risk, just like every high school draft pick, but his talent vastly outweighs any uncertainty, and the Rays are doing everything they can to get his development on the right track.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: The Breakout Stars of Team History