Minor League Monday: Whitley's pitch
“I’ve pretty much pitched my whole life, but it wasn’t always my main priority. I had a batting cage at the house and I would hit and hit and hit all the time,” Whitley said. “I mean I would pitch on occasion, but if I went to a camp I would say I was a shortstop or a third basemen. My mom was like, you need to say you’re a pitcher and I would just tell her, no I want to hit.”
Whitley took his mother’s advice during college and pitched more and more each year. Even though he knew he was a pitcher, he still didn’t ditch the bat. Instead he got the best of both worlds by being able to play third base or DH when he wasn’t on the bump for Troy University.
“My freshman year I started a couple games and only got about 30-to-35 innings. Then in my sophomore year I pitched pretty much all the games I could and I think I got up to 80 innings,” Whitley said. “Then I went to Troy as a closer, but I would also play third and DH a lot. It was mostly just hit, hit, hit. Then one day it was like OK now time to pitch here we go.”
Whitley’s decision is definitely paying off, as he is the first member of the New York Yankees 2010 First Year Player Draft Class to reach the Triple-A level with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“I felt good when I got drafted, my momentum was good and it carried over from season to season and now I am here,” Whitley said while sitting on the fence taking in the Charlotte Knight’s batting practice session at Frontier Field in Rochester, N.Y. “I’m trying my best to keep that momentum going whether it be working on a new pitch or whatever it might be. I’m just going to try and keep going forward for as long as it takes to get to the next level.”
At 6’5 Whitley also prides himself on being a better than average basketball player. However, the decision was made long ago to pursue a baseball career as opposed to trying to make a living guarding LeBron James on the hardwood.
“I felt like I had the longest future in baseball,” Whitley said. “I didn’t think I was quite good enough to play past college in basketball and in baseball I didn’t know, but I definitely thought I was a better baseball player than a basketball player.”
If the tall right-hander chose basketball he wouldn’t be able to experience one of his favorite feelings in the world. Pitchers love the strikeout and Whitley is no exception.
“I like to get a guy 0-2 and then elevate a fastball. Then I just kind of sit there and say wow that was neat when he misses it,” Whitley said with a wide grin. “I try to live down in the zone as much as possible, and when you switch up the eye level and the guy misses it makes you more versatile out on the mound.”
He also joked about using his stature as an intimidation factor on the mound.
“I try to give my mean face as much as I can,” Whitley said on being a reliever as opposed to a starter. “Whatever the Yankees want is what I am going to try and do. I am feeling pretty confident in how things are going so far.”
Whitley’s confidence stems from his ability to mix speeds without slowing down his arm motion. Being able to do this is a trait some pitchers do better than others. A good changeup may be just as good as a 100 MPH fastball and keeps the hitters guessing no matter what the count.
“I feel like there have been some outings when I haven’t had my changeup where I like it to be. But, through being able to be as confident as I am in it and throw the same arm motion, I get a lot of swing and misses,” Whitley said. “I think something like that plays into things a little more than how good the pitch is. If you can keep the same arm speed you’re doing it right.”
The confidence doesn’t just come from Whitley’s changeup, but also from his relationship with God. With renovations being made to PNC Field this summer, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plays all of its “home” games on the road, which can make it difficult for guys to settle into one area. Whitley feels such a unique season is a true test to his faith and says it is only getting stronger. Each Sunday, Whitley and a few other members of the Triple-A Yankees meet with a chaplain for Sunday worship. He is no stranger to organizing Bible studies, as he started one with teammates in Junior College, as well as at Troy.
“I saw some great things happen at Troy, a couple of my really good friends came to know Christ and that is really special to me,” Whitley said. “It trumps anything you can ever do in baseball.”
Whitley’s relationship with God has led him to leave his “life verse” right underneath his signature when signing autographs. This is something he picked up from a book by former Alabama Tide and Seattle Seahawk, Shaun Alexander.
“His (Alexander’s) is Psalms 7:4 and I was like well that’s kind of cool. The way he found his life verse was he went through the Bible and he went through the chapters and found 37:4 which is what he really liked,” Whitley said. “I tried that my senior year of high school. My baseball number was 11 and my basketball number was 22. So I flipped through the Bible and I cam across Mark 11:22 and it was, have faith in God. I said to myself wow that’s pretty incredible.”