“I would say with his signing with LSU that this will probably be the biggest signing we’ve had,” said Cardinal Gibbons Head Coach Jason Hamilton. “We’ve been fortunate to have some pretty good baseball players but Eric ranks up there with the best. Obviously, to sign with LSU, he ranks up there as one of our top two to three signees in the history of our school.”
That’s a pretty strong statement coming from someone who has been at Cardinal Gibbons for nine years and is well-versed on the rich history of the school that has been around since 1961.
But his experience at dealing with the 6-3, 190-pound hurler, who compiled a 21-2 record over the last two years, has provided all of the proof that Hamilton needs to know he has someone special on his staff.
Whaley tops out at 92 miles per hour on his fastball and has a good breaking ball according to Hamilton, but there is much more that has coaches and scouts excited.
“For his best pitch to be his changeup that is pretty special,” Hamilton said. “He’s just really come into being a pitcher over the last couple of months. He’s always been a great athlete but he’s been a thrower. But he’s really started to turn into a pitcher now.
“His biggest strength is his arm speed and he’s got as much arm speed as any kid I’ve ever had and that’s what makes his so special,” added Hamilton. “They see him being a 95-96 mile an hour guy someday, once he starts using his legs and he gets physically stronger.”
LSU head coach Paul Mainieri has strong ties to South Florida from the 30 years his father, Demie Mainieri, spent coaching at Miami-Dade North Community College, along with the years spent on the high school level.
Hamilton knew all about the Mainieri name but he also got to learn a little bit about LSU’s new pitching coach David Grewe.
“I knew all about Paul Mainieri but coach Grewe is the one I talked to and he was excited about getting Eric,” said Hamilton. “Anytime a college coach offers a kid like Eric and you get that commitment then you’re thrilled. Any coach that gets a recommendation from pro scouts that say the kid is the real deal then they’re real thrilled.”
In the end, though, it came down to an SEC /Pac-10 battle.
“He went out to Arizona and liked Arizona a lot,” said Hamilton. “He really was impressed with Andy Lopez as a pitching coach and what his guys have been able to do the last couple of years. It was a tough sell but once Eric went out to LSU we sat down and put all of the positives and negatives the positives far outweighed the positives at Arizona.”
And those positives are what many associate LSU baseball to.
“He loved the campus and the idea of playing in front of 7-8,000 people every home game,” said Hamilton. “He loved the facilities they’re building and then I just gave him a little bit of history.”
Hamilton is a history teacher at Cardinal Gibbons so giving Whaley a little lesson on the history of college baseball was right up his alley.
“If you’re a real fan of college baseball then there are five programs in the country that really standout as the elite,” explained Hamilton. “You can interchange any of those schools like Miami, Stanford, Arizona State, and those guys. But LSU is right there at the top. Once we straightened that out he said ‘coach I really don’t have a choice do I?’ I said sure you have a choice but I think you’ll make the right choice.”
Now that Whaley has made his choice the LSU staff can rejoice because it won a big prize.
However, Mainieri and Grewe may have won the first battle but there will likely be another one next June.
“He might be a top round guy,” Hamilton said. “He’s made a huge progression the last two years from being a guy who throws 83 to 84 as a sophomore to a guy who’s now topping out at 92 to 93. I can see him gaining about 20 to 25 pounds once he gets with a strength coach and they’ll get more out of his legs.”
If LSU can hold on to Whaley then the Tigers will get a double-dose of good fortune because not only can Whaley take the mound but he could also contribute in the field and at the plate.
“There was some debate as to whether or not he was going to get offered in the field,” Hamilton said. “He’ll play centerfield for us in between starts and he’s a kid that will probably hit in the 3-hole, and he runs a 6.5 (60).
“He hits for average and he hits for power,” added Hamilton. “He’s a heck of an athlete and LSU got a very, very talented, not just pitcher, but baseball player coming down there.”
And if Whaley does end up wearing the purple and gold rather than going straight to the professional ranks then Tiger fans should be in for a treat.
“Now I hear stories about how over here in Pompano everyone knew when he was going to pitch and play,” said Hamilton. “All of the little kids from around the block wanted to see Eric play because they heard about him. Everyone knew he was going to be special.”
And the little kids in Baton Rouge may be doing the same thing one day.
Scouting Report from the 2008 National Showcase:
"Eric Whaley is a 2009 RHP/3B/SS with a 6'3'', 177 lb. frame from Pompano Beach, FL who attends Cardinal Gibbons HS. Eric is a tall, lanky, very athletic RHP who also plays the infield. On the mound he topped out at 90 and mixed in a 70 mph CB with a big 10/4 break. With that tall lean frame he easily projects to add even more velocity in the future. He showed outstanding speed with a 6.60 time in the sixty, showed good fielding actions and threw 87 across the inf, and showed a good stroke at the plate showing two way potential. This is a very interesting kid who could skyrocket. Eric is also a good student."