The Rays are known for having one of the strongest systems in baseball. That’s an asset for a young prospect, who is surrounded by top, major league bound players, and who has to be on top of his game to stand out. Garrett Whitley, the Rays top pick in the 2015 draft, has the talent to be seen as a top prospect in any system.
Armed with an outstanding toolset from the day he set foot in professional baseball, in the 2017 season he took a significant step forward in many vital areas. With more ABs than ever before (134 more than in 2016), he continued to show good patience at the plate (13.4% BB rate) but dealt with a few more strike outs (28.6%). Simultaneously, he increased his wOBA to .364, ISO from .113 to .182, and increased his SLG from .382 to .430. Those improvements in power and wOBA are what many expected to see as he gained experience, and it was great to see it play out that way.
If you’re wondering about the splits, he managed .271/.386/.449 vs LHP and .239/.351/.422 vs RHP, and finished the season strong with 10 of his 13 HRs hit in the 2nd half along with a line of .249/.381/.465.
So you’d think he’d be happy with a strong finish, take some time off, and then ramp up for next season, right?
Not Garrett Whitley. He wanted more. More work, and more out of himself for 2018.
As you’ll hear in the audio, Garrett saw an opportunity to take another step forward this past winter by grabbing an opportunity to play in the ABL (Australian Baseball League). The fact that he was willing to put in the work and stick it out for the entire season - including the playoffs - is very notable.
He speaks very highly of his experience in the ABL and recommends it to other prospects who could take advantage of that opportunity in future years. The Perth Heat deserve a lot of credit here, including their CEO Lachlan Dale who according to Garrett, did everything possible to make their stay seamless and comfortable.
When I asked Lachlan what impressed him most about the Rays prospects in particular had this to say,
They are all outstanding characters in their different way. Fraley and Whitley have super plus tools, Brosseau and Law are workhorses who find ways to succeed.
Asked what improvements he noticed in all of them, he added this,
I think they all became a little more comfortable and their personalities opened up more so within the team dynamic. At the Heat, our focus is on team success which is a slightly different model of Pro Baseball where it’s individuals trying to get to the big leagues as quick as possible. We’ve done a lot of work with them on personality profiling to get the most out of each of them that they can use in their pro career and have provided this information to the Rays to hopefully maximise their learning potential and expedite their journey to MLB
Garrett credits this process with getting him to a point that would possibly have taken him a few months to get to in 2018, speeding up his progress and setting him up for success.
Here are a few examples of what he was able to do down under, defensively and with the bat.
And this one goes to opposite centre field,
With those things in mind, it’s great to see that Garrett Whitley recognized the opportunity and went with it. In this he follows in the footsteps of Justin Williams and Kevin Kiermaier who have used ABL stints to cement their roles as top prospects when they had the opportunity.
Most recently being ranked 9th among Rays prospects by Baseball America, Whitley will head towards 2018, the things he would have worked on early in the season may already have been ironed out.
Before listening to the chat I was privileged to have with Garrett, I’d like to say that I came away very impressed with his situational awareness and gratitude to everyone around him. From coaches who help him work on stealing bases, to the GM helping him out in Australia, and from his peers on each team he plays on all the way to Chris Archer, who he points to as helping him feel at ease, Garrett shows his gratitude and respect.
That outstanding character trait will help him out so much as he heads through the system and enhances his chances of one day wearing #24 in The Show.
I attempted to get approval to use “New Wave” by Quinn XCII as the intro and leaving music of the article to no avail - people are busy and copyrights are tricky. It’s Garrett Whitley’s walk up song from 2017. Since he hasn’t picked one out yet for 2018, feel free to send recommendations his way and be sure to monitor his 2018 season. He may be set to light it up after a winter spent working hard on his craft down under.
Here’s the chat - enjoy and hope you enjoy getting to know Garrett as much as I did!
(Soundcloud link here in case access is prevented above)