Whisenhunt's winding road finally reaches AFL

October 30th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There are roller-coaster years, and then there is what Carson Whisenhunt experienced in 2022.

The left-hander was deemed ineligible for the entire spring season at East Carolina after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance he claimed came from an over-the-counter supplement. Following an inconsistent turn in the Cape Cod League, the Giants selected Whisenhunt in the second round anyway and went above slot to sign him to a $1,868,720 bonus. After brief turns in the Arizona and California Leagues, he came to the desert to add innings in the Arizona Fall League, only to miss the first three weeks with COVID.

“It’s been a weird year,” Whisenhunt said. “A lot of ups and downs. A lot of down time. A lot of figuring stuff out. But I’m just glad I got the opportunity to come out here and play.”

And with that chance came another rise on the roller coaster Saturday night.

San Francisco’s No. 7 prospect struck out five and allowed just two hits over two scoreless frames in his AFL debut as part of Scottsdale’s 6-0 win over Surprise at Surprise Stadium.

The 6-foot-3 southpaw draws plus-plus grades on his changeup, which sat in the 80-82 mph range Saturday, and he leaned heavily on it as part of his short gem. Whisenhunt threw 26 pitches, 20 of which were strikes, and he elicited 11 whiffs in that span against a Surprise lineup that featured eight right-handed batters. Remarkably, 10 of the 11 whiffs were on the changeup alone.

“It was the feedback off of their swings,” Whisenhunt said. “Usually I have a pretty good feel for that pitch, so I want to throw it a lot. But their swings had a lot to do with me throwing it as much as I did tonight.”

Whisenhunt was around 90-93 mph with his fastball, which he threw to give up his only hit on Nick Gonzales’ leadoff first-pitch single. The Scorpions' starter mixed in some curveballs around 76 mph, but once he knew he could keep the Saguaros back with his bread and butter, he kept leaning on that.

“I'd say the biggest thing is I throw it just like my fastball,” Whisenhunt said of the changeup. “If something’s different with it, I know I'm trying to do too much, or I'm not throwing it like I should be. Having that feel and knowing what I need to do with that pitch every time [is big].”

Whisenhunt and the Giants had planned on unleashing that changeup on AFL hitters much earlier. The 22-year-old struck out 14 batters over four appearances (7 2/3 innings) in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League and at Single-A San Jose in August and September, and there was hope he could build up even more in the desert to make up for some of his lost innings from the collegiate season. Then COVID reared its head, and Whisenhunt's case wasn’t as simple as missing two weeks.

“I really didn't do a whole lot,” Whisenhunt said. “It kind of kicked my butt. I was just trying to get enough workouts in, trying to get everything to shrink back and all that, then playing catch, keep building arm strength and staying productive as much as I could.”

Whisenhunt added that he hasn’t been given an exact timeline of what comes next for him in the Fall League, but he noted that he hopes Saturday is just the start of a return to normal. The AFL regular season ends Nov. 10, so there could be room for two more Whisenhunt outings before the arrival of winter. Those would make for two more opportunities to send the roller coaster a little higher and put the lows a little farther in the past.

“It’s kind of settled in a little bit,” Whisenhunt said of the start to his pro career. “Not completely, I don’t think. But it’s just [about] going out there and having fun. It’s like anything else you’re going to do, especially playing baseball.”

Angels outfielder Bryce Teodosio hit a two-run homer to cap a six-run eighth inning in the Scottsdale victory. No. 15 Los Angeles prospect Werner Blakely doubled to add a pair of RBIs in the big frame.