Of the 12 players currently on the Trenton Thunder pitching staff, only Brett Marshall is younger than 22-year-old righty reliever Chase Whitley. Whitley, along with fellow bullpen mate Preston Claiborne, were assigned to the Arizona Fall League last season, a prestigious prospect showcase of sorts that produces more big leaguers than failures.
The Yankees certainly think Whitley will be the former instead of the latter, as do many who’ve seen the Ranburne, Ala. native on the mound. Whitley is ranked as the 29th-best prospect in the New York system by Baseball America, but the humble hurler tries to avoid thinking about the lofty expectations surrounding him.
“I just try to control what I can control,” he said. “Every day, I just want to go out there and try to get a little bit better.”
After spending most of the 2010 season with Short Season-A Staten Island, he graduated to a full year of pro ball last year, splitting the year between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. After posting a 1.68 ERA in 23 appearances with Tampa, he struggled a bit upon arriving in Trenton, pitching to a 3.38 ERA in 19 outings.
“Last season was such a year where I was learning so much, with it being my first season,” said the Yankees 15th round draft choice in 2010.
“This year, it’s taking what I learned last year, putting it on the field and seeing what happens. I learned how to be a professional and how to go about how to work and how each and every day is just a grind. It’s the first time I’d ever played that many games in a season, so I just need to go out there and see how it goes.”
Clairborne and Whitley are the only two members of the 2010 Yankees draft class on the Thunder roster so far. Mason Williams and Cito Culver are certainly well on their way, but predictably, it’s two pitchers that got there first. For what it’s worth, Whitley doesn’t feel like people are expecting too much of him given his impressive progression.
“I’m under the radar, man,” he said. “I’m a 15th round pick, people don’t expect much. I just hope to go out there and do the best I can and see what happens.”
For Whitley, the key this season will be fastball command. His slider and changeup are regarded as his two best, but with a fastball that sat around 90 MPH last season at Waterfront Park, he’s going to need to spot it a little better this year.
“I need to throw the ball where I want to throw it,” he said. “I need to continue to work on my off-speed stuff and master that and throw those pitches in fastball counts. But the fastball, everything plays off the fastball. You get strike one, you can go with your stuff. So far this spring, it’s been real good. We’ll see how it goes this season.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com