Whitley, a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher who throws in the high 90s, has been projected by many to be drafted in the first round, with Bleacher Report having him going as early as 11th overall to the Seattle Mariners. MLB Network ranks Whitley as the 12th best prospect in this year’s draft. If he’s selected that early, he could know where he’ll be headed before he even takes the mound against College Station in the state semifinal.
“It’s obviously a big deal,” said Whitley on if he’ll be thinking about the draft during his start. “However, my main focus is on winning the state championship, and that’s going to come first on my mind.”
Days before his life-changing night, Whitley sat down with SI Kids to talk about what he’s feeling as he leads his school to its first ever state tournament, the gold medal he won with the USA National Team in Japan, and the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field.
When did you start playing baseball?
I started playing when I was five years old. It was machine pitch right across the street at the Little League. I wasn’t much of a pitcher since of course I couldn’t pitch. I don’t think I was very good, and it wasn’t a big deal to me yet, but it was fun.
What is your favorite memory of baseball?
My favorite memory in baseball is when we won the gold medal for the USA National team in Osaka, Japan [at the World Baseball Softball Confederation 18U World Cup]. Going out there and beating players from across the world with the best players from around the nation is a pretty indescribable feeling.
What has this past year been like?
It’s been a lot. It’s been a little overwhelming at times, but you just have to go out there and play the game, ignore distractions, and just do your thing. I’ve really enjoyed this high school season. You know, this run that we’re on is just awesome. We’re making school history, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Out of everything you’ve gotten to do this year, can you describe your favorite moment?
In Japan, I was pitching against Team Canada, and they had a couple of guys that had been previously drafted. They had a guy who had been picked 12th overall to the Marlins; his name was Josh Naylor. I’d known him coming into the game, and I actually had the chance to pitch against him and I struck him out, so that was a pretty awesome moment that I’ll remember forever.
What have you learned through this whole experience, between going to Japan to play with Team USA, playing at Wrigley Field, and being so heavily scouted?
It’s really humbling, learning that there are other players in the nation who are a lot better than you. You might be neck and neck with a guy talent-wise, and it really comes down to what you do off the field and how diligent you are with your process — and everything off the field as far as workouts go, or how you carry yourself with diet. That’s what I’ve learned is a really a difference-maker.
What have you changed through all of that?
I’ve really changed my diet and my workout regimen. The diet’s changed from going out to eat seven days a week to eating more home-cooked meals that my mom makes. I’ve always done training, but it’s really the diet that changed for me. I’d work out really hard, and then I’d be at the Whataburger drive-through an hour later.
When did you start thinking getting drafted was a possibility?
It wasn’t really one moment, but over the summer I found myself competing with the top guys in the nation, and I was getting them out. My stuff was on par with everyone else’s who was highly ranked, and people started noticing. I started to get a lot more attention, so that’s when I really started to realize I had a chance.
What would being drafted mean to you?
It would mean the world to me. It’s been a dream ever since I was a little kid. Maybe it was a little far-fetched then, but in the past couple of months, it’s been a reality, and it would absolutely mean the world to me.
Photograph courtesy of Brian Yancelson