Whittleman looks for strong finish

SAN JOSE, CA - Despite having an up-and-down season statistically thus far, third baseman John Whittleman has taken a lot of positives from his time with the Bakersfield Blaze. Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with the 21-year-old for a Q&A session.

Third baseman John Whittleman enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2007, particularly in the first half. Before the All-Star break with Single-A Clinton last season, the former second round pick batted .320 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs and 42 walks in 231 at-bats.

The outstanding performance earned the Kingwood, Texas, native an invitation to display his skills in the 2007 MLB Futures Game during All-Star Weekend. Whittleman took advantage of the opportunity by hitting a home run off then-Mets prospect Deolis Guerra.

Whittleman went into a post-All-Star break slump with the LumberKings, but his work earlier in the season was enough to earn a promotion to High-A Bakersfield. Although the slump continued early with the Blaze, he came alive later in the season and ended up batting .240 with a .786 OPS in 29 games.

The 21-year-old entered the 2008 season looking to make short work of the California League in hopes of getting an early-to-mid-season promotion to Double-A Frisco. Whittleman hasn't been able to climb the ladder quite yet, as he currently holds a .252 batting average with six home runs for the Blaze.

Although Whittleman doesn't have a sparkling batting average, there have been some positives to his numbers. He leads the California League with 76 walks and ranks fourth with 33 doubles. But Whittleman is also fifth in the circuit with 103 strikeouts.

With less than one month left in the minor league regular season, Whittleman has shown signs of heating up, as he is batting .314 [11-for-35] with nine walks [.455 on-base percentage] over his last 10 contests.

Lone Star Dugout was able to sit down with Whittleman before a recent game in San Jose.

Jason Cole: How do you feel about your season out here so far?

John Whittleman: It has been a grind. I would have liked to have been better, but it's one of those deals where it is just a learning process. Things have been good. If you look at the positives, there are a lot of positives. But it could have been a lot better and it can get better. It's not over yet. I just keep on grinding out every day. I'm just trying to get better every day and things are going to get better.

Cole: Your doubles are way up from last year but your home runs are down a bit. Are you worried at all about the home run power?

Whittleman: No, I don't worry about the home run power. Doubles are power to me. You look at doubles, that's in the gaps and it is driven balls that just barely don't make it out. I'm not worried about the home run numbers at all. I think that stuff will come with maturity and age as I get older and grow a little more. I'm definitely not worried about it at all.

Cole: A lot of hitters, when they do go through slumps, also stop walking. But it seems like you have pretty consistent walk rates. Sometimes when you are slumping, I've noticed that you will still have two or three walks in a game here and there. How are you able to do that?

Whittleman: I think my strike zone discipline is very good. I think I know the strike zone very well. It has been unfortunate this year with my strikeout total being up and my batting average being down.

A lot of people would say it looks like I'm striking out too much, but I'm taking pitches that I think at the higher levels would be balls that are out of the zone – balls that are borderline. These umpires out here, they're learning just like we are. They're trying to get a feel for their stuff. Some of us are just a little more advanced than others and I feel like I'm ahead of the curve when it comes to that stuff. I don't think anyone in the organization would disagree with that. They would probably like me to be more aggressive, but I've got my approach and I have got what I've been working on.

I think it is going to help me at the higher levels whenever I do move up. I'm going to stick with that and as time goes on, I'll move up levels and hopefully the strikeouts will go down, the walks will stay where they're at, and the batting average will go up.

Cole: The California League is known as a hitter's league, but this season, the overall slugging percentage is way down from usual. Do you feel there is a reason for that?

Whittleman: People say it's a hitter's league, but it really hasn't played like a hitter's league. As you said, the numbers are down. The pitching is a lot better this year. A lot of teams usually don't send their top pitching prospects here, but this year it's a totally different story. Last night we faced [Kevin] Pucetas, a Futures gamer this year. Almost all of their staff was in the All-Star Game. We're facing [Henry] Sosa tonight, who was in the Futures Game with me last year. The pitching has gotten better here. The parks, maybe they're not playing like they have been in the past. I'd have to say the numbers are down, but the pitching is a lot better.

Cole: What has been your main focus at the plate this year?

Whittleman: Just trying to get comfortable with my timing. Usually everyone tells me – and a lot of guys in the Rangers organization say – it is pre-swing stuff. My swing is great, but whenever your timing is off before you swing, that is going to mess up everything in the swing. I have been working on my timing and all my pre-swing stuff – just getting it down, getting the foot down, and getting ready. It has been a grind on that part.

Also just constantly working on all the little stuff – getting the elbow in the slot, working on going the other way, and all that stuff. But mainly it has just been timing. I feel like I have come a long ways with it and it's going to just get better as it goes.

Cole: How do you feel your defense has progressed this year?

Whittleman: Defense is just like hitting. You have your slumps; you have your ups-and-downs. It seems like whenever I make an error, it comes in bunches. I'll go on a streak where I won't make an error for 15 or 20 games and then I'll have a streak where I'll make six in three games. I think it is coming just like everything else is.

The organization, they told me that it will progress whenever I move up levels. I'm just going to keep learning third as I go up. I think I've come a long ways though. My throwing has gotten a lot better. But I would still like it to get a lot better than it is. Hopefully I just carry it out and keep the errors down as I go up and keep on learning stuff.

Cole: When you are slumping defensively, what are you doing to not only stop the slumps, but also keep them from happening altogether?

Whittleman: Whenever I'm slumping in the field, I just try to go back to the basics. I try something little like counting the hops. If I don't feel right, or I feel like I'm getting bad hops, I just count the hops as the ground ball is coming to me. It kind of helps me to stay down and through it.

As far as the throwing goes, I just try and stay on top of it and just point my glove hand right at the bag. Just little, basic stuff that you get away from. You get to pro ball and you start playing and one little thing tweaks everything. I just try to go back to the basics like that.

Cole: What are you looking for out of yourself over the last month of the season?

Whittleman: Finish strong – I want to finish strong. I want to go to the Fall League. I have got personal goals like that. As far as the season goes, I want to finish strong here and I want to get to the playoffs for once, whether that be here or Frisco. I just want to finish strong no matter what level I'm at. I want to finish strong, keep grinding it out, and keep working on those things that I have been working on all year. Hopefully the numbers and stuff will fall into place.

Cole: Have the Rangers told you anything about the Arizona Fall League this year? Have they said you may go there?

Whittleman: Yeah, there is a chance. If I go anywhere, it will be the Fall League. That's what the word is. They aren't going to send me back to Hawaii. That would be pointless. Instructs is more for the younger, younger guys and the guys coming up and learning stuff about pro ball. There is only one option left and that's the Fall League. If not, maybe I'll just take an offseason off – have a true offseason for once. I want to go to the Fall League if I do get in it and I guess we'll find that out here in a couple of weeks.

Cole: Didn't the Rangers almost put you in the Fall League last year?

Whittleman: Yeah, they were going to put me in the Fall League. They had me on the roster for the Fall League, but they backed me out and said they were going to send me to instructs and let me work on some stuff and Davis had a blowup here. They were going to let him play third and they were contemplating putting me at first base at the time. But I was in the Fall League and they backed me out and I ended up going to instructs and got mono, so I went home. But it all worked out in the end – I wasn't going to be able to play anyways because I had mono. I was upset about it, but hopefully I'll get to do it this year.

Cole: Have the Rangers said anything about moving to first base now that Davis is there?

Whittleman: No, nothing. The whole deal now is that I'm going to stay at third and Davis is going to play first. We'll just see what happens from here on out and hopefully I will get up there and stay at third.

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