Since being selected in the 25th round of the 2010 draft by the Oakland A's, Whitaker has had to overcome the skepticism of scouts who didn't see future stardom in the Georgia native's future. And despite an All-Star performance with the Low-A Burlington Bees in 2011, Whitaker is embarking on yet another journey in 2012 to prove that he belongs amongst the A's top prospects.
Whitaker, a Georgia native, spent the entirety of his high school career on the diamond as a starter on Augusta Christian's high school club and also competed collegiately in the Peach State. Whitaker received numerous accolades in high school. He was awarded first team all-county, all-region and all-state honors as a key member of a squad that ultimately boasted three AAA state championship appearances with two titles during Whitaker's enrollment to the program.
Surrounded by SEC and ACC juggernauts the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, Whitaker instead opted to sign with the Kennesaw State of the Atlantic Sun conference. After a superb campaign as an underclassman, Whitaker starred in his junior season with the Owls. In 52 games, he amassed a .336/.403/.483 line with 13 doubles and six HRs. He would go to the A's in the 25th round of the 2010 draft after that season.
Reporting to the Arizona Rookie League immediately following his selection, Whitaker participated in just 10 games with the AZL A's, hitting .333. He was then promoted the short-season Northwest League, spending the rest of the 2010 season with short-season Vancouver. His production declined with the Canadians as he hit .232/.309/.352 with six stolen bases in 43 contests.
Whitaker's 2011 season got off to a quiet start, as he would remain in extended spring training before being sent out to the Burlington Bees in late April. One of Whitaker's goals coming into 2012 was to be on an affiliate's Opening Day roster, something he accomplished with Stockton this season.
"It was good and definitely something new," Whitaker said of his season-opening assignment with Stockton.
"My first Opening Day was exciting. My goal heading into spring training was to break camp with the team and I was finally able to do it this year, so I was really excited about it."
Last season, Whitaker shared time at first base and DH with Kirby-Jones while playing in the Burlington outfield on occasion. Now with corner infielders Head and Kirby-Jones joining Whitaker in Stockton, Whitaker has spent the majority of his defensive time in the outfield.
Whitaker claims no preference for first base or the outfield.
"I can use my tools as far as speed for me being a corner outfielder," Whitaker said.
"I think I can utilize that and my arm better in the outfield than at first. But I don't prefer one over the other."
Whitaker has a strong history defensively in the outfield. He finished second in all of Division I collegiate baseball with 11 outfield assists in 2010.
The 2011 season was a breakthrough campaign for Whitaker, who came seemingly out of nowhere to post a statistical line of .326/.402/.556 in 113 contests for Burlington. He had 34 doubles, three triples, 10 stolen bases and 17 homers. Whitaker was recognized as a Midwest League postseason All-Star, Topps Class A All-Star and MiLB.com All-Star for his efforts. After Burlington was ousted in the Midwest League playoffs, Whitaker was promoted to Stockton to participate in the California League championship series versus Lake Elsinore. He would finish the series batting 2-13 in his High A debut.
"[The Cal League post-season experience] made me familiar with the plays, the fans, and the ballpark. You know, being able to play the difficult angles in the outfield," Whitaker said. "So it definitely benefitted me in the short time I was here."Now competing against Cal League opponents during the regular season, Whitaker has noted a definite uptick in the level of competition from the Midwest League.
"As far as facing pitchers, just them being able to command their offspeed [pitches more," Whitaker said of the difference between the leagues. "You know, 2-0 changeups, 3-1 changes, and 3-2 breaking balls. Stuff like that is what I'm to need to get used to. In the Midwest League, I got to 2-0 and 3-1 and they threw fastballs."
In addition to adjusting to a higher level of competition, Whitaker has a defined set of goals for what he hopes to accomplish in 2012.
"Offensively, probably being more consistent. Refining my two-strike approach and cutting down on strikeouts while still remaining aggressive," Whitaker said. "Defensively, definitely [improving] my outfield work. I could work on taking better routes and having my throws being more down through the cutoff man."
Whitaker is determined to prove that his standout 2011 campaign was no fluke. He is off to a solid start with Stockton. After 18 games, he has a .286/.375/.429 stat line with two HRs, four doubles and 30 total bases. Whitaker aims for consistency throughout the 2012 season.
"Last season I started off slow and gradually warmed up," Whitaker said.
"This season I want to just start off good and end good. I just want to play as hard as I can, and whatever happens afterwards is out of my control."