Name: Josh Whitaker
Height/Weight: 6’3’’, 225
How Acquired: 25th-round pick in 2010
In many ways, Josh Whitaker is the epitome of the old Ray Charles song, “If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck.” Whitaker has seen his rise through the minor leagues stymied on numerous occasions by injuries, many of which have been of the fluke variety. Just this last year alone, Whitaker lost more than half of the season thanks to a beaning and a shoulder injury. He has lost time in past years to a broken wrist and a bad back, as well.
The injuries have delayed Whitaker’s development, but they haven’t lessened his talent. The 6’3’’ corner outfielder is still one of the best power hitters in the A’s system. In 424 career minor league games, Whitaker has a .480 slugging percentage. He is far from just a power hitter, however. Whitaker also carries a career .281 batting average, a respectable .349 OBP and has one of the best throwing arms of any outfielder in the A’s system.
Whitaker has always maintained a relatively low profile in the A’s system, in large part because of his injuries. The Kennesaw State alum was a 25th-round pick of the A’s in 2010. He caught the eye of many members of the A’s player development staff during that fall’s Instructional League, impressing A’s coaches with his athleticism and power-hitting ability.
In 2011, Whitaker burst onto the prospect scene when he hit .326/.402/.556 with 17 homers in 113 games for the Low-A Burlington Bees. Only an early season back injury kept Whitaker from winning the league’s MVP award. He was named to the league’s post-season All-Star team.
The next season Whitaker moved up to High-A Stockton. He got off to a slow start with the Ports, but was in the middle of a big second half when an injury cost him most of the month of August. Despite the missed time and the slow start, Whitaker still managed to be one of the top offensive players for the Ports that season. He posted a .259/.325/.472 line in 99 games. Whitaker homered 20 times that year, including seven in an 11-day period in June.
Despite those good numbers, Whitaker began the 2013 season back with Stockton because of a backlog of outfielders in the upper-levels of the A’s system. He was one of the first players to earn a promotion that season, however, and on May 11th he made the jump to Double-A Midland after hitting .283/.346/.504 over his first five weeks for Stockton. Unfortunately for Whitaker, he fractured his wrist during his fifth game with the RockHounds and had to miss more than six weeks recovering from the injury.
When Whitaker returned, there were no openings on the Midland roster, so he was sent back to Stockton. He continued to hit well for the Ports despite the frustration of not being at Double-A, and on August 3rd, he returned to Midland. Whitaker announced his presence at the Double-A level loudly, driving in seven in his first game back with the RockHounds. He finished his first stint with Midland with a 728 OPS and his overall slashline for 2013 was .256/.333/.446.
In 2014, Whitaker began the year as a fixture in the middle of the Midland line-up. He was the RockHounds’ best hitter for the first half of the season, earning a spot in the Texas League All-Star game with a .323/.371/.531 line. Whitaker had two stints on the disabled list while with Midland. The first came in late April when left shoulder soreness sidelined him for a week. The second time came in mid-June when he was placed on the DL with the after-effects of a concussion suffered when he was hit in the head by a pitch.
It wasn’t long after Whitaker returned from the disabled list the second time that he earned a promotion to Triple-A. Still battling the impact of his beaning, Whitaker struggled during his first few games at the Triple-A level. However, he was just starting to swing the bat well when he once again landed on the disabled list with shoulder problems on July 25th. This time, Whitaker would be out for the year. He tried rehabbing the injury but it eventually required surgery, which was performed in October.
When healthy, Whitaker is a difference-maker in the middle of the line-up. He hits for power to all fields and has a good feel for getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. Whitaker hits both righties and lefties well. He isn’t a player who gets a lot of walks, but he does a good job with pitch recognition and is able to attack pitches he can handle.
Whitaker looks like an immobile first base/DH type at first glance, but he is a good athlete who moves well for a man of his size. He has an above-average throwing arm that is an asset in right field. Whitaker can also handle first base, if needed.
Assuming his shoulder is healthy this spring, Whitaker should return to Triple-A and play everyday for the A’s with the Nashville Sounds. Depending on how the A’s season goes, Whitaker could make his major-league debut in 2015 if he stays healthy and productive.