Whittleman preparing for key season

SURPRISE, AZ - The 2009 season figures to be key for third baseman John Whittleman, who is entering his fourth full professional season. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 22-year-old after Monday's Spring Training workouts.

The 2009 season figures to be key for third baseman John Whittleman. The 22-year-old is entering his fourth full season in the Rangers' organization, and he will likely begin the year at Double-A Frisco.

Whittleman opened the 2008 campaign with High-A Bakersfield and batted .257 with 36 doubles and seven home runs in 439 at-bats. He finished 12th in the California League with 113 strikeouts, but also led the circuit with 81 walks despite his late-season promotion.

The native Texan joined the Frisco RoughRiders with just over one week to go in the regular season. Whittleman got to a fast start in the Texas League, as he was 4-for-8 with two doubles, one home run, and four RBIs in his first two contests. He didn't have an extra-base hit in the final seven games, but did finish with eight walks in 39 plate appearances.

The Rangers gave Whittleman a spot in the Arizona Fall League following the '08 season. He played roughly once every three days and batted .136 [8-for-59] with two doubles and two home runs.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Whittleman after Monday's Spring Training workouts.

Jason Cole: How long have you been out here?

John Whittleman: Since about January 20th.

Cole: After finishing your Fall League season, I'm guessing you weren't very home for long.

Whittleman: No. I was home the day before Thanksgiving maybe. I was there until January 20th and then I came here. It was right at two months.

Cole: What have you been doing since you've gotten to Surprise?

Whittleman: We just finished up our offseason workouts for Nappy [Napoleon Pichardo], who is the head strength and conditioning coach out here for the minor leagues. We finished up that – made sure we were on the right track with that – and started getting ready for the season.

We started mixing in infield and BP as time went on. When February rolled around, we started doing all that stuff on the field. It kind of gave us a little head start on getting ready out here.

Cole: How many guys were out here at that point?

Whittleman: There weren't that many. There were probably about 10 position players tops – maybe. Whenever guys started needing to show up and stuff, they started rolling in here. But not until mid-to-late February did more and more guys start showing up.

Really it was nice because we had a lot to do on our own here. There was a lot of individual time for ourselves to do all of the stuff we needed to get done before the season.

Cole: How much did that help you, getting more one-on-one time with coaches and instructors while you were here early?

Whittleman: It's a lot better. It is always good to have everyone out here, working on your team chemistry and stuff with the guys you're going to be playing with. Whenever you're doing early work or infield work or hitting work, it's always good to get your reps in one-on-one because you can work on certain stuff. You're not having to jump out of the cage and jump back in. You stick with it right there and kind of get a feel for it. It's always nice to have one-on-one time.

Cole: Even though minor league camp started not too long ago, since you've been out here so long, are you ready for the regular season to get underway?

Whittleman: Oh yeah, definitely. We had some early guys out here and we had our set schedule where you're kind of doing minicamp type stuff. Then we got to mix in some games on the big league side. We kind of got some game experience, but we're ready to get it going. I feel like I've been out here for a whole Spring Training already.

Cole: You hit a home run in a big league Spring Training game this year, didn't you?

Whittleman: Yeah. I ran into one out there. It's one of those deals – those guys don't know us. We've got the 86-96 on our back. They don't know who we are, so they kind of throw some cookies sometimes. I just ran into one. Earlier in the day I played in a ‘B' game and I didn't feel that comfortable. But you get out there in the big league camp and your adrenaline is pumping and stuff. It was nice – I got to run into one. And it was nice playing in front of a crowd again, too.

Cole: How do you feel you finished last season with Frisco?

Whittleman: I felt like I finished good. My average wasn't what everyone wanted it to be when I finished up. I only had 10 games there though. Whenever the playoffs rolled around, the games moved up to another level and that's what you want to see – that's what you want to feel.

When playoff time comes around, you want to step it up another level. You need to finish out that grind of a full season and take it to another level and try to get a ring. Unfortunately we came up short in game five of the championship series, but I felt like my overall time in Double-A was good and hopefully I can carry it over to this year.

Cole: That was your first time playing in the playoffs, wasn't it?

Whittleman: Yes, that was. That was my first time to have playoff experience. In Clinton in '07 we had playoff stuff, but I didn't get the opportunity to play there. Yeah, Double-A was my first opportunity to play in the playoffs and it was a good experience.

Cole: You played in the Arizona Fall League this year. What are your thoughts on that?

Whittleman: The Fall League, I felt good about going there. It is an honor to play there. You always see the names of the guys that have played in it and stuff. You see what they have gone on to do in their professional and big league careers.

As far as it goes, we had a lot of guys on our team and it was tough to get into a rhythm with the game. You step in with those pitchers, they haven't missed a beat. They all get to throw an inning every now and then. As far as hitting goes, it always feels good to play every day and get into a rhythm. But I wasn't in that situation – we were all in the same boat. Nobody pointed their finger at anybody. It was tough on the manager, but we still got the experience to play there. It was good overall, but the average and stuff didn't show up in the end.

Cole: What have you been working on out here in camp thus far?

Whittleman: I'm working on defense a lot, just trying to soften up the hands and get my feet going. I want to get a feel for what good feet feel like. I'm trying to lighten it up, trying to get a little rhythm just like you do at the plate. I'm working on defense a lot.

And obviously everything that goes with hitting – timing mainly. We talk a lot about timing. Once you get your timing down – you work on your swing so much – that's going to take over in the end. But working on the defense and the timing basically.

Cole: Do you know where you'll be playing once the season starts?

Whittleman: No. Obviously I finished up in Double-A last year. Scotty [Scott Servais] has mentioned to me once or twice that I'll probably be starting in Double-A. You never know – I could walk off a curb and have to go to extended or something. But also, something could happen in Triple-A and I could start there. You just never know. Hopefully I'll start in Double-A and see where it takes me from there.

Cole: Do you have any goals for yourself this season?

Whittleman: Yeah, it's a big year for me. It's a big, big year. A lot of stuff is going to happen this year. A lot of stuff can happen – it's out there. My goal is to win a ring obviously. We want to win games as a team and go to the playoffs again. I want to win wherever I'm at. We always talk about competing and stuff, so I want to win.

As far as personal goals go, I'm not real big on that stuff, but I have high expectations for myself. We all know what the ultimate goal is in the end. That is what's on my mind as far as personal goals go. When September rolls around and everyone is going home and the season's over – I want to keep going and get the chance to play in the big leagues.

This is a big year for me, but as far as goals go, I just want to win and compete and have the opportunity to go up there.

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