It goes without saying that baseball players perform at their best when getting consistent at-bats, and it's been no different for Oakland A's farmhand Josh Whitaker since he was selected in last summer's amateur draft.
But many 25th-round draft picks can get lost in the organizational shuffle and quickly become afterthoughts once other top prospects are at the ready. Whitaker hasn't let that happen, though. He is quickly making an impression on the A's brass with his body of work in the Midwest League this season.
The 6'3'' corner infielder currently leads the Burlington Bees in many offensive categories, including home runs (nine), extra-base hits (32), batting average (.312), on-base percentage (.376) slugging (.550) and OPS (926).
"As long as I'm in there getting at-bats it's good for me, because I didn't have that opportunity last year," said Whitaker, who also got off to a slow start before finishing strong in Vancouver.
"If I can get around 300 or 350 at-bats this year, it should be a pretty successful first year for me."
Whitaker, whose walk-off grand slam helped the Bees to a 4-3 victory over Quad Cities on Wednesday, has been scorching hot in July with a .423 batting average and a 1500 OPS.
And that opportunity might not have come if Kirby-Jones hadn't gotten injured during the first week of the season. The first-baseman's DL stint opened up a spot in the Burlington lineup that Whitaker has yet to relinquish.
"I started out in extended spring training and when I came up because of the injury [to Kirby-Jones] I knew I was going to be playing every day, so I tried not to stress too hard on my production," Whitaker said.
"I knew I'd still be out there, so I tried to relax. I started off in a rough patch, but knew I would get out of it and to not panic. I've been doing that ever since."
Since Kirby-Jones returned from the brief DL strint, he and Whitaker have split the first base and designated hitting duties for Aaron Nieckula's club. It's a role both have flourished in.
Whitaker brings a sound hitting approach to the table, albeit one that has produced more extra-base hits than home runs.
"I've been recognizing that a lot of the pitchers are staying away from me," Whitaker said. "In my pre-game routine, I'm trying to stay inside everything and shoot it to the right side. That really helps when it comes game time. I put the same swing on it I've been putting on balls all day.
"I've never been the guy to go out there trying to hit home runs every time. I just want to put a good swing on the ball and hit it hard. Sometimes my strength will take over and it just happens. A lot of my doubles come into play trying to hit low back-spin line drives that get into the gap. A couple of them will get out every now and then."
Whitaker's home run on Wednesday was a perfect example of that approach, as he lined a pitch from River Bandits' reliever Aidan Lucas to the deepest part of Community Field in center field.
With a few more performances like that one, barring injury, Whitaker won't have any problem reaching his goal of 350 at-bats.
"I really enjoy going out there and playing every day, just getting at-bats, diving around and enjoying the game like I'm a little kid," he said.