Legends On Deck

Exclusive Interview: Garrett Whitley – Tampa Bay Rays

It isn’t uncommon for a young boy to dream about being a professional baseball player.  For so many though, that’s all it is.  A dream.  I remember having the same dream when I was a kid.  I thought that someday i’d be taking over for Keith Hernandez as the New York Mets first baseman.  Well that never happened.  In fact, I stopped playing baseball around the ninth grade.  For a select few that dream becomes a reality.

Garrett Whitley had that dream.  Now he’s living it.  In 2015, Whitley was drafted in the first round (13th overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays out of high school.  I had the opportunity to speak with the Rays #11 prospect about his career so far, the decision to choose baseball over college, the stigma of being drafted out of the Northeast, among other things.

Whitley played his high school ball in Niskayuna, NY which is located in the Albany area.  He was committed to go to Wake Forest to play baseball after graduation.  Instead, the Rays would force him to make a life altering decision when they made him their first round pick.

“I didn’t realize the draft was a legitimate possibility until August going into my senior year [of high school].  I performed pretty well at a few showcases and as we were going into winter I did a few workouts for different teams” Whitley said.  “Progressively through the winter and my season I started to realize that I had a chance at going in the first round” he added.

As the draft grew closer and closer it wasn’t just a few teams that showed interest.  Whitley shared with me that 20-22 teams had real interest with the others just sending scouts to meet him and to fill out their questionnaires.

Whitley’s sixth grade project

“Obviously there is a lot of money that goes into the higher picks, and they all make sure they do their due diligence.  They try to get a feel to see what kind of person you are and what kind of work ethic you have and your background” Whitley said.  “I had meetings with 20-22 teams like legit meeting” he shared.

Once the draft rolled around and his name was called, the aforementioned “life altering decision” had to be made.  Would he choose to follow his dream and the goal he set for himself as a middle-schooler, or would he honor his commitment and attend Wake Forest in the fall and play for the Demon Deacons?

“My parents and I, we value education a lot in the house” he told me “It was going to take a significant number to have me forgo school and go straight into pro ball”.  The Rays knew that and offered Whitley a signing bonus of over $2.9 million persuading him to go the pro ball root.

“Getting drafted was the ultimate goal and I was hoping to get the number I was looking for” Garrett said of his decision to sign “but if not I would have been perfectly comfortable going to college.  I would have loved going to Wake [Forest], I love the school down there”.

After signing on with Tampa, Whitley was sent to the Rays Gulf Coast League team to start his professional career.  He played in 30 games for the GCL Rays before being sent to the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League, where he’d stay the remainder of the 2015 season.

He struggled a bit in his first season hitting a combined .174 in 42 total games with the two teams.  The adjustment period has to be difficult, not only for a kid coming into pro ball from high school, but one coming from upstate New York as well.

“I have heard all the northeast stereotypes about being less developed and that sort of thing” Whitley said, “In certain ways that was true when I was coming into pro ball and there was a lot of stuff other people knew that I had never even been made aware of.  The little ins and outs of playing the game that I was never exposed to playing where I played” he added.

After dealing with hamstring issues during the spring after his first season, Whitley was assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades again where he would spend all 2016.  He showed vast improvements statistically finishing the season batting .266 in 65 games.

Photo by Mathew Carper – Legends on Deck

Trending in the right direction in his development, Whitley had an opportunity this spring and he made it count.  On March 30th, he appeared in his very first MLB Spring Training game against the Minnesota Twins.  He came into the game as pinch-hitter for Evan Longoria in the fifth inning.  The first at-bat didn’t go according to plan and he struck out against the Twins Hector Santiago.  He’d get up again in the eighth inning and would record his very fist spring training hit against Ryan Pressly.  Whitley also ended up scoring a few batters later.

“That was a lot of fun.  It really was” Whitley told me, “Get to play in a big league spring training game in itself was a cool experience.  To get a hit too was kind of icing on the cake” he added.

In this game you get rewarded by working hard, being dedicated, and being coachable.  Whitley is proof of that.  Coming from a place that isn’t known as being a hot bed for baseball players is one sign, working your way through an organizations system is another.  He still has quite a ways to go before achieving his ultimate dream of being a major league baseball player, but he has the absolute right attitude moving forward.

“Well i’m not in the big leagues so I have to work on everything” he said jokingly, “Keep working.  That’s it.  That’s what I did my whole life.  Just love playing this game”.

Being from the northeast myself with two young ballplayers of my own, I asked Garrett for any advice to give them if they wanted to follow this same route.  “It’s definitely tougher in some respect getting noticed in the northeast but you can absolutely do it” he said “If you want to play pro ball, the scouts will find you in you’re good so just keep working as hard as you can and good things will happen”.

This season Whitley is playing for the Rays full-season Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League.  He’s batting .258 with three home runs and 24 RBI.

 

 

John Ginder

Site Co-Founder/Senior Editor and Co-Host at Legends on Deck® The Podcast
In the past John has been a part of such successful sites as MetsMerizedOnline and MetsMinors.net.John was born and raised in upstate New York and has a love of all sports but mainly baseball. He has grown used to heartache with his teams as he roots for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres too.John has a loving and understanding wife and is the the proud father of two amazing boys.He also loves heavy metal music.

You can also reach out to John at jginder@legendsondeck.com