Padres Scouting Report: Nate Whitney

Nate Whitney has been a saving grace for many. Not only on the baseball field where he went from walk on at Illinois State to full time starter and scholarship recipient, but also to a family in Normal, Illinois on the night before he left to join the Padres rookie league affiliate in Peoria.

On the night in question, Nate Whitney spotted a fire in the garage of a residence and went into the house to alert the sleeping family. The home may have been destroyed but lives were saved thanks to the quick thinking ballplayer.

It wasn't the first time Whitney put aside his own gains to help others.

Whitney had a scholarship offer to go to Arkansas State but preferred to stay near his home and close to his roots. He walked into the Illinois State baseball offices and told the coaching staff he had an interest in coming to play for them.

"I said if you want to walk on and try it," Illinois State Head Coach Jim Brownlee recalls. "I won't make you any guarantees.

"He was real interested in our physical education and kinesiology department. To make a long story short, he became an everyday player very shortly in his junior year for us. He did a great job and earned a scholarship his senior year."

Whitney went undrafted but the Padres knocked on his door with an opportunity. After a two year stint with the Redbirds, the dream was still alive. He joined the Peoria squad where he ended up playing in more games than any other member of the team.

"It was good for him to get an opportunity," said Brownlee. "Sometimes guys don't get an opportunity, but he got a chance to go out and play and held his own."

Whitney, known for his all out hustle, ended up being used in a new capacity. It was all about giving up what was best for him to help the greater cause of the team. He batted second, third and fourth – odd because he is viewed by many as a prototypical leadoff hitter.

"For me, he is a prototypical first or second hitter because he can really run," Brownlee confirmed.

After some initial adjustments, Whitney began to thrive, witnessed by his five RBI output in his 14th game – one of two five RBI nights on the year. After his second such night, Whitney went into a funk. A 3-for-30 stretch dropped his average from .298 to a midseason low .246. Whitney righted the ship and ended the year with a nine game hitting streak, going 14-for-40 during the stretch.

Whitney ended his season batting .269 with a team leading 29 RBI's. He also tied for the team lead in runs scored with 30 and walks with 22 while placing second in extra base hits with 14.

His stolen base totals were kept to a minimum, six on the season, because of where he batted in the lineup. Whitney was asked to be a run producer instead of the igniter.

His former coach was surprised to see him in that role and reemphasized his ability to run – four triples lending credence to that. It was just the type of player Whitney is.

"What I like – and I have been doing this for thirty years," Brownlee began. "I have had 40 guys that were drafted and he fits right into that mold. I got a guy who is in the big leagues right now named Jamey Carrol. He is a utility guy. He got a sacrifice to beat the Cubs the other night. He is very similar to Nate. Quiet guys that just go about their business.

"Organizations like that in this day and age. A guy who comes to work everyday and works hard and keeps his mouth quiet."

Whitney doesn't have the power that is generally associated with a middle of the lineup guy. His game was built around speed but he will do whatever is asked of him. With a little more protection around him, his role should change and build around his strengths in the coming year. Rather than asking him to go outside his element, Whitney will likely be put into a role where he can help others succeed, by scoring runs instead of knocking them in.

He has some pop and that will grow in time but won't be the type of player that can hit twenty homers – a common trait among outfielders these days. What will separate him from the pack is a continued ability to play solid defense and become a spark for the offense. His defense is strong as he tracks the ball well and has an above average arm. With the Padres emphasis on defense throughout the system it will elevate his stock.

As a non-drafted free agent, he must make his mark where he can. Expectations won't be as high as those who were drafted and that may afford him an opportunity or two that others don't get.

"Now that he has his chance he will open some eyes," Brownlee says confidently.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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