Top 50 Prospects: #30 - Craig Whitaker

In 2004, Brian Sabean infamously gave away a first round pick to avoid paying the bonus first round picks get. In 2005, the Giants didn't have a first, second or third round pick, though more pressing needs through free agency prompted those losses. That means that Craig Whitaker, the 34th overall pick in 2003 remains the Giants most recent first round pick. But as time has past, expectation have dropped significantly for the former Texas High Schooler.

Date of Birth: 11/19/1984 Position: P Height: 6'4" Weight: 170 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 1st Round (#34 Overall) of the 2003 Draft
2005 Stats
Augusta - Low A 3 4 4.66 29 6 6 58.0 54 36 30 3 39 72 .245 0.83

Craig Whitaker will remain the Giants most recent first round pick (albeit a compensation round one) for another five months, and he also is beginning to show signs of being just what General Manager Brian Sabean is worried about regarding first round picks, which prompted the infamous 2004 signing of Michael Tucker hours before the arbitration deadline specifically to avoid having to pay a late first round bonus. (The decision to sign Omar Vizquel and Armando Benitez early in the 2004 free agent period is routinely also blamed on Sabean’s ‘fear’ of first round picks, but that decision almost certainly was more to get the top free agents at two major needs the Giants had)

In 2006, Whitaker will enter his fourth year of professional baseball, which is significant because after this season, Whitaker will be vulnerable to be picked in the Rule V draft unless protected by the Giants 40 Man Roster, and two years after that, if he hasn’t made the major league roster, he’ll be a minor league free agent. Yet, even then, he’ll go back to the lowest rung of full-season ball without so much as a defined role on the pitching staff.

This leaves the Giants in a very unenviable position with their former first round pick. There are three possibilities: Whitaker does well enough to need protection on the 40 Man roster, forcing the Giants to use a spot on a guy who will probably still be in A-ball and won’t be realistically ready for the majors for another 2-3 years; Whitaker does well enough to be possibly picked up, and the Giants leave him off the 40 Man roster and risk losing him for a measely $50,000; or Whitaker does poorly enough that he’s not a risk to be picked up, which isn’t really good for him or the Giants. He’ll then have 2 years to shoot up to the majors before he might be lost as a free agent for nothing.

Yet Whitaker still has the tools and potential to have fans and hopefuls amongst the observers, although the original comparisons to Matt Cain and his ceiling. Although he touched 98 MPH in high school, he regularly throws in the low 90’s and touches 95. His big curveball, which had been a source of high hopes, has been exchanged for a slider that is not as dominating but that he can control better. He can strike out plenty, but he has a career walk rate of nearly 6 batters per every 9 innings. And his health is an issue, after being sidelined with a back strain for much of 2005. He did come back and performed fairly well as a reliever later in the season at Augusta, but becoming a reliever drops the ceiling drastically from the expectations of a first round pick.

What does 2006 hold for Whitaker? Well, if 2005 was a Make-it-or-Break-it year for him, then 2006 becomes a Make-it-if-he’s-ever-going-to year. Whitaker spent the autumn in an instructional league, and will likely return to Low-A Augusta where the Giants are going to give him one more shot at being a starter. If he does well, he’ll get a push to San Jose to try and catch up. If not, the Giants will probably shift him to relief and see if that’s enough to kickstart his pro career.

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