Garrett Whitlock | RHP
Whitlock, 22, grew up outside Atlanta in Snellville, Georgia. He played four years of baseball at Providence Christian Academy and posted a 0.62 ERA as a senior. Despite that, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2015 draft, and he went undrafted out of high school. Whitlock followed through on his commitment to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
As a freshman with the Blazers in 2016, Whitlock worked almost exclusively in relief, throwing 51 innings with a 3.00 ERA and a 46/21 K/BB. He made one start and 24 relief appearances. Whitlock headed to the Cape Cod League for summer ball and struck out eight in six shutout innings for the Chatham Anglers. Given his limited workload, it should be no surprise Whitlock did not make Jim Callis’ top ten Cape Cod League prospects that year.
Whitlock moved into the rotation as a sophomore in 2017 and in fact he drew UAB’s Opening Day start. He got off to an excellent start to the season before suffering a back strain that sent him to the sidelines for a while, and pushed him into a relief role when he returned. His effectiveness waned and Whitlock finished the spring with a 4.03 ERA and 44/24 K/BB in 60 innings. Not the breakout year he was hoping to put together.
Because he turned 21 within 45 days of the draft, Whitlock was draft-eligible as a sophomore in 2017, and Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him the 331st best prospect in the draft class. The Yankees selected him in the 18th round (542nd overall) and paid him an above-slot $247,500 bonus*. Whitlock had leverage because, as a draft-eligible sophomore, he could return to school for his junior year and reenter the draft in 2018.
* Every dollar over $125,000 given to a player drafted after the tenth round counts against the bonus pool, so Whitlock came with a $122,500 bonus pool charge.
Whitlock signed on draft signing deadline day, so he didn’t get many innings under his belt during his pro debut in 2017. He allowed seven runs in 14.1 rookie ball innings split between the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League. On the bright side, Whitlock struck out 22 and walked zero in those 14.1 innings. Not much to his pro debut.
The Yankees sent Whitlock to Low-A Charleston to begin last season and he carved up South Atlantic League hitters, throwing 40 innings with a 1.13 ERA (2.27 FIP) and strong strikeout (29.7%), walk (4.7%), and ground ball (62.0%) rates. A promotion to High-A Tampa followed. Whitlock had a 2.44 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 70 innings with Tampa. His strikeout (25.1%), walk (9.2%), and grounder (50.5%) rates were solid.
A two-appearance cameo with Double-A Trenton was uneven (10.2 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 7 BB, 4 K) — Whitlock actually jumped from Low-A to Double-A for a spot start in April — and Whitlock finished his first full pro season with a 1.86 ERA (3.01 FIP) in 120.2 total innings. The strikeout (24.9%), walk (8.4%), and ground ball (53.0%) numbers were good. His 1.86 ERA was fourth lowest among the 510 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in the minors in 2018.
The Yankees bet an 18th round pick and a $247,500 bonus on Whitlock returning to form as he got further away from the back injury and that’s exactly what happened. This past season the right-hander showed the same low-to-mid-90s sinking two-seam fastball he had as a freshman and on the Cape, and the Yankees also had him start throwing four-seam fastballs up in the zone to change eye levels.
Whitlock boasts two solid secondary pitches in his power slider and changeup. The Yankees have helped him gain consistency with his slider, which sometimes looked like a slider and sometimes looked like a curveball in college. Now it is a slider, definitively. The changeup is a quality pitch as well and allows him to neutralize left-handed batters. Whitlock is a true-four pitch pitcher with a four-seamer, a sinker, a slider, and a changeup.
On the durability front, Whitlock has had no injury problems aside from his poorly timed back strain during his sophomore season at UAB — he might’ve been a top five rounds pick with a healthy back that spring — and he has plenty of size (6-foot-5 and 190 lbs.). Enough that you could see him adding velocity should he add a little more muscle.
After ripping through two levels of Single-A ball last season, Whitlock is all but certain to begin the 2019 season with Double-A Trenton. I have to think the Yankees are hoping he can pitch his way up to Triple-A Scranton at some point as well. Half a season in Trenton and half a season in Scranton would be ideal. I’d bet against Whitlock making his MLB debut this year — he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft purposes until the 2020-21 offseason — but don’t be surprised if the Yankees bring him to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.
I really like Whitlock. The Yankees have become quite good at developing mid-to-late round arms (Chance Adams, Cody Carroll, Jordan Montgomery, Josh Rogers, Caleb Smith, Taylor Widener, etc.) into big league pieces or trade chips, and Whitlock appears to belong in that mix. He has a deep enough arsenal and good enough control to start, which is quite valuable even if he’s only a back-end guy. In relief, he could really be something. Part of me wonders whether Whitlock is more trade chip than big league option because he’s not a huge velocity guy and the Yankees usually steer clear of middling velocity righties. Either way, what a get in the 18th round.