6'4/225, R/R, Redshirt Junior, 22.78 on Draft Day
For the past, present and much of the foreseeable future, Whitson's most notable action was/will be: turning down $2.1 million from the Padres as the 9th overall pick in 2010 out of Florida panhandle high school
It wasn't like he fell off the radar after turning down all that money: Whitson dominated in his freshman year at Florida (97.1 IP, 2.40 ERA) and was presumably on his way to doubling that potential high school payday (but not draft eligible until after his junior year in Gainesville). Some teams weren't nuts about his delivery in high school (myself included) and it still wasn't ideal in his standout freshman year (video) but he made some progress after an up-and-down sophomore year (33.1 IP, 3.51 ERA), showing a better delivery in the fall before his junior year (video and report) along with above average stuff, but shoulder problems flared up before the season started and he missed the whole 2013 campaign.
Whitson is back for the 2014 season as a redshirt junior and has come full circle on his delivery, as you can see from the below video. His medical past is unclear as Florida wasn't as forthcoming as pro organizations are about injuries. Whitson's sophomore year was a haze of last-second pushed/cancelled starts and amorphous "arm soreness" while his junior year was lost to a shoulder injury, but it wasn't labrum or rotator cuff related (just impingement).
All that to say, none of these carry long-term medical concerns for MLB teams, but he was injured for nearly all of a two-year period with lots of dubious "he looks healthy" pronouncements followed by not appearing in games for weeks afterwards (including in the Cape Cod League). Mysterious pain without a full explanation for a guy that threw in the mid-90's for a couple years with a not great delivery doesn't inspire confidence; this makes some clubs anxious that something else could be going on, even though there's no evidence of that.
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 50/55, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 45/50
All that medical history just puts into context what you can see from the bottom of the article: Whitson's draft stock is very volatile. He was regularly in the mid-90's with a wipeout plus slider and improving changeup that was at least above average in high school. Whitson was similarly as good as a freshman, but his stuff was worse in a lost sophomore year. When I saw him in the fall before his junior year, he was once again 92-95 mph (in a 2 inning stint on Scout Day) with a slider and changeup that were both above average to plus.
Scouts told me that Whitson was 90-92, hitting 93 mph in his 2014 debut with some feel issues (over 2 innings). When I saw him in his second start, on Sunday against Miami, I watched him sit 90-93 for 4 innings with a solid-average but inconsistent 82-84 mph slider and 78-82 mph changeup.
I'm still optimistic that Whitson can work his way into the top 50 picks in June for a few reasons. He shows the ability to make adjustments and the ball comes out of his hand very easily; when I put my gun away, I thought a couple fastballs were changeups. I also immediately noticed that Whitson was slowing his arm on both off-speed offerings and appeared to be aiming the ball. This is totally expected for a guy in his first few real innings after lots of arm issues; some experienced pitchers with no arm trouble have problems throwing a breaking ball with maximum arm speed.
I think these remaining issues are mental and I've seen better stuff from him right before he missed a whole season due to injury, so I think there's room to grow here, especially with the improved delivery. I still don't like the angle Whitson takes to the plate--it makes him throw across his body and be off-balance after release just for a little more deception--and I also don't like how he glove hand dangles at his waist at release; both are very fixable, though.
If Whitson can let it loose and show three above average pitches and average command, while getting some results and going deeper into games with no medical issues (not as much to ask as you might think), then he's a top 50 pick guy. That would allow him to command a bonus very close to what he turned down out of high school. A source told me that Whitson was offered a low seven figure bonus and had interest from multiple teams in in last year's draft and he was just starting to throw again; this money didn't come only after a dazzling bullpen.
There's still a chance things just don't come together this year and Whitson (who turns 23 in August) either signs for a small bonus to start his career or gambles and returns for his 5th year in Gainesville. Some teams will steer clear completely, but I think the upside here is late first to sandwich round if it all comes together. Whitson would grade out in the 3rd round if the draft was today.
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