Chuck Johnson on Chase Whitley

Over at New York Baseball Digest, Chuck Johnson posted some of his thoughts as a scout on the Yankees Arizona Fall League crew. He got to see everyone play but David Phelps. I recommend reading the whole thing, caveating that he’s drawing conclusions only after observing a very limited example of what a player does. He doesn’t have many good things to say about the (admittedly unimpressive group of) Yankee prospects, but he does have some interesting things to say about Chase Whitley:

Chase Whitley: The Yanks 15th rounder in 2010 out of Troy State, Whitley is a big 6’4” 220 right-hander with a nasty repertoire. He throws a four seamer which touches 96 and has a very late rise, just enough where he will miss a lot of barrels. He throws an 85 or so slider, and while the break isn’t big, it’s late, which, in the overall scheme of things is almost a preferred option because the potential of a mistake is less. He has a nice change in the 83, 84 range and consistently keeps it down in the zone. At the time of the draft, Whitley was considered to have the best changeup of any college pitcher, and that fact proved to be true yesterday, albeit in just one inning of work. As a pro, Whitely’ made just one start in 72 career appearances, and that was an emergency start this year in Trenton when the scheduled starter cramped up in the bullpen warming up. Whitely didn’t take up pitching until his junior (draft) year of college and spent most of his early development years as an offensive player. The fact he was able to develop a plus changeup, arguably the most difficult pitch to master, in such a short time points to him being able to learn and master his slider, and if what I saw yesterday is an indication, he’s well on his way to accomplishing that. Despite his current career path as a reliever, the Yankees like his future potential as a starter and could have him repeat Trenton next year as a member of the rotation. If that doesn’t work out, and if David Robertson ends up the in-house replacement for Mariano Rivera, Whitely has the stuff to step into the set-up role down the road, and could potentially close as well.

That’s some pretty high praise for Whitley. I’ve always been unsure of what to think about him. The Yankees certainly seem to be easing him into starting pitching. He pitched a total of 91 innings in 2011 in just 42 appearances, and will get additional work done in Arizona. They would probably be comfortable allowing him to throw 130 or so innings next season. But for now he’s still in the bullpen, and has been aggressively promoted to Double-A. His 2011 K/BB rates weren’t too impressive (7.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9) given his great stuff. The three pitch arsenal sounds great, but as a starting pitcher he is going to have to reel his control in to avoid becoming a right-handed Wilkins De La Rosa.

Its a good scouting report, but Chase Whitley has always had a great scouting report. That’s why he was converted in the first place. I’d just urge caution about too much optimism.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He lives and works in Washington, DC.