Rays make high school OF Whitley top pick
Taken 13th overall, New York product turned heads with strong showcases
ST. PETERSBURG -- A week before the Draft, Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison spoke about some "interesting" high school outfielders from cold-weather states.
On Monday, one of those outfielders became the Rays' first pick of the 2015 Draft (13th overall) in the form of Garrett Whitley from Niskayuna High School just outside of Albany, N.Y.
"It's a really good feeling to get a really good player and a guy you feel really comfortable with," said Harrison of the pick. "It's a great way to start the Draft. Let me tell you that."
Whitley sounded equally as pleased when he talked to the Tampa Bay media on a conference call.
"I mean, I'm just so happy," said Whitley, who's ranked No. 17 on MLB.com's list of Top 200 Draft prospects. "I have a good relationship with the Rays throughout this whole thing. I felt like I have a lot of information about the team and they've done a really good job of forming relationships with me. So I feel absolutely comfortable with going to them. I'm just so happy."
The Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
When asked what the Rays liked about Whitley, Harrison smiled: "Size, strength, athleticism, explosiveness, bat speed, runner, very intelligent. What else you want to know? This guy's got really good tools."
Harrison noted that the Rays were familiar with Whitley from scouting him extensively in high school and at the various talent showcases, where he was able to lock horns against better competition than what he faced in the Northeast.
Initially, Whitley said he needed to make some adjustments to the stepped-up competition.
"That was the first time I went out and faced 90 [mph] or played against players who were playing it at that speed," Whitley said. "So it took a game or two to get comfortable again."
But he did adjust and soon felt completely comfortable again, adding that "it was just baseball."
Whitley, who bats and throws right-handed, emerged as a potential first-rounder with a succession of strong performances late in the summer on the showcase circuit. He lived up to that billing by continuing to swing a good bat as spring came to the Northeast.
"He's kind of that classic cold-weather kid," Harrison said. "This guy hasn't played like the guys in Georgia and down here and the Southern California kids. So [it helped] to get a chance to watch him play against good competition last summer [in showcases]. We watched him for a 10-day stretch and he just got better and better, which is what the elite athletes are capable of doing."
Whitley has an advanced approach at the plate for a high schooler from a cold-weather state, and his strength and bat speed could produce above-average right-handed power. His pure speed is his best tool, grading as a legitimate plus.
The 18-year-old is one of six high school outfielders taken by the Rays with their first overall selection (Josh Sale, 2010; Delmon Young, 2003; Rocco Baldelli, 2000; Josh Hamilton, 1999; and Paul Wilder, 1996). During his senior season, Whitley hit .351 with a .479 on-base percentage to go along with three home runs, 13 RBIs and 24 runs scored. Whitley also went 15-for-15 in stolen-base attempts in 20 games played. His speed gives him plenty of range in center field, and he has a better arm than most players at that position. He has committed to Wake Forest.
Harrison first saw Whitley last summer in Syracuse, and his first impression was that "he sticks out because he's an athlete."
"You watch him take BP and you watch him run around, those kind of guys separate themselves," Harrison said. "And almost before your eyes they go from kind of a raw athlete to where you go, 'This guy just keeps getting better.' So by the end of the time you go, 'This guy's an athletic baseball player.'"
Signing Whitley now becomes the priority for the Rays.
"In these situations, ideally you work out something quickly so the player can get out there and start playing as quickly as possible," said Matt Silverman, Rays president of baseball operations.
When asked if he's ready to jump to the professional ranks, Whitley noted: "I think I'm ready to move into my pro career."