Sunday, June 7, 2015

2015 Draft Prospect: Garrett Whitley, cf

Garrett Whitley
Niskayuna High School (N.Y.)
6-1; 195 lbs
B/T: R/R

The 2015 draft is rapidly shaping up to be the year of the shortstop (D.Swanson, A.Bregman, B.Rogers, K.Newman, B.Trahan, etc), but I'm pretty impressed with the centerfield crop, too. As a polished college player of somewhat smaller stature, Andrew Benintendi has a reasonable high floor and a reasonably high ceiling. Comparatively speaking, as a raw, high school player from a cold weather region with very good tools, Garrett Whitley has a lower floor and, probably, a higher ceiling. In fact, Whitley's ceiling likely rivals that of anyone in the draft.

Whitley has the explosive tools and athleticism to support a very high ceiling, the question remains whether he has the baseball specific skills needed to reach it.

Here's a look at Garrett Whitley in action, courtesy of FanGraphs on YouTube:

Whitley attends Niskayuna High School in New York. In his senior season, he hit .364 with a .487 OBP and slugged .618 with 13 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs, and 14 steals in 55 ABs. It was a stellar season that was, as usual, truncated by the region's cold weather. However, he had already started opening some eyes the previous summer in showcase events and his strong senior season served to cement his status as a likely first round pick.

Whitley is already physically mature, so there may not be much physical projection left to his game. That's not overly worrisome though, as he's already a plus-runner with very good physical strength and a strong arm. There is a real physicality to his game, the type of physicality that makes you think he could be one of those rare players with the ability to take over a game. You can even see it in his running, he's not the type who glides easily over the turf, he's the type who seems to dig into it and rip it up. 

In addition to his physical gifts, Whitley earns high marks for his makeup. There's an interesting local N.Y. news story on Whitley that's worth watching and another that story covering his award as Scholar Athlete of the Week, both give you a feeling for his personality, poise, and makeup. In those stories, his coach talks about his ability to handle both success and failure on the field, Whitley discusses the importance he places on education, and Whitley talks about being a volunteer assistant coach for his younger brother's CYO basketball team.

Let's take a closer look at his swing, which will largely determine his career path:

Well, let's get this out of the way, I pretty much love this swing. It's controlled force. The bat speed is plus, the balance is strong, the intent is evident. It's a swing designed for hard, powerful contact.

Like Benintendi's swing, Whitley's swing gets into all the right positions at the proper times. However, Whitley supplements his swing with a touch more physicality and strength than Benintendi.

Things I love about this swing: 

1. How he rotates the front foot inward during the stride, increasing the load in the back hip, providing a better coil to generate increased rotational force.

2. How the hips fire before the shoulders, creating a differential between their respective rotations and allowing for generation of force through the kinetic chain, starting with the legs and then traveling up through the hips, shoulders, and arms until it is ultimately transferred to the baseball.

3. How the back elbow drops in close to the back hip, dropping his hands into the slot position which allows the back shoulder deliver the swing to the ball.

4. How he taps into the muscles of the shoulder and back before firing the swing and rotating the front shoulder open to pull the arms and swing through the zone. 

All that said, this is a batting practice swing and he doesn't always carry it over into game situations. In addition, despite reports that he has an advanced approach, he'll need to continue refining his pitch recognition and ability to control the strike zone, especially against more advanced competition than he typically faced in the Northeast. That will be his biggest challenge going forward. He has the swing to be an impact hitter, he just needs to continue refining the process by which he decides when to use it. If he selects good pitches to hit, then his swing will do the rest. If he selects poor pitches, then the quality of his swing won't save him.

Whitley's swing, advanced approach, and strength gives him legitimate impact hitter potential. He has as much offensive upside as any player in the draft.

On the defensive side, Whitley's speed makes him a legitimate centerfielder, which only increases his value. He covers enough ground to stick there and he also has the requisite level of arm strength, making him a potentially premium bat at a premium position.

The mere fact that he is a high school player gives him a slightly longer development path than a polished college prospect. The fact that he is from a cold weather region means that he has less of a track record to evaluate and likely less experience seeing pitches from top tier pitchers.

Overall, Garrett Whitley is a very impressive prospect and I like him a great deal. He joins Andrew Benintendi at, or near, the top of my very short list of prospects for the Reds with the 11th overall pick.

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