Whittleman riding power surge

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Frisco third baseman John Whittleman's outstanding July has Rangers fans wondering whether he is turning the corner. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 22-year-old after a recent RoughRiders game.

Nobody has ever doubted John Whittleman's potential.

The Frisco third baseman has been one of the Texas Rangers' top corner infield prospects ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2005 MLB Draft.

Whittleman initially broke out during a phenomenal first half with Single-A Clinton in 2007, in which he batted .320 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs, and 42 walks in 231 at-bats. His success was highlighted by the home run he hit in the MLB All-Star Futures Game off then-Mets prospect Deolis Guerra.

The Houston native began struggling with Clinton when he returned from the All-Star break, and his numbers with High-A Bakersfield were somewhat of a disappointment. Although Whittleman didn't have terrible numbers with the Blaze, he was never able to recapture that excellent first half in Clinton.

Until now, at least. Now playing in Double-A Frisco, the 22-year-old started the season slowly. Despite totaling 43 walks and 18 doubles in 66 first-half games, Whittleman batted just .225 with zero home runs and 18 runs batted in.

But in 23 July games, the native Texan is hitting .299 with eight homers, 21 RBIs and 20 walks. Over the last two months, he has 44 walks in 51 contests. With a .444 on-base percentage and a .688 slugging percentage in July, Whittleman has been perhaps the hottest bat in the entire Rangers system.

Only time will tell whether Whittleman has turned the corner. He certainly has the tools to keep the streak going, and he is still just 22-years-old at the Double-A level.

Jason Cole: The first thing I want to ask is probably pretty obvious. You're having a pretty unbelievable month, especially in terms of home runs and walks. What has been the difference for you?

John Whittleman: Always making adjustments and stuff. I'm starting to be a little more aggressive, but at the same time, I'm taking my plate discipline up there. Whenever I'm jumping on certain pitches, and I'm hitting for power now, the walks are going to come.

They're going to start pitching around me, and I'm adjusting to that. I'm trying not to chase and I'm obviously making adjustments with the swing every time I need to.

Cole: You talked about being a little more aggressive. When you first started being more aggressive, did you feel that you were chasing a little too much and you were getting out of your comfort zone?

Whittleman: Oh yeah. Any time you're a plate discipline guy and you work the count—any time somebody tells you that you need to be more aggressive, you're automatically going to feel like you're chasing pitches. And you're going to chase pitches. I did that, and I still do that on occasion. It's nothing out of the ordinary to feel.

So I'm taking it with a grain of salt, and I'm kind of adjusting to it now. I'm getting back to my old plate discipline, but at the same time, I'm hitting the pitches I need to hit. It's paying off.

Cole: I keep hearing that even your outs this month have been hit pretty well. Do you feel like you're getting a little bit unlucky, even with all the home runs?

Whittleman: Most definitely. Even before the home runs started coming, I was barreling balls up and guys were making diving catches. I was hitting balls in the gaps in Frisco. And it's not a hitter's ballpark unless you're a righty. The wind blows out to left, kind of like here. But not as hard.

I was barreling balls up to right and left-center and right-center. The centerfielder was just tracking everything down. That's part of the game, that's the nature of the beast. You just keep swinging.

They know if I'm feeling good—they know if I'm hitting it hard, as far as the organization goes. They see my improvements, and they see everything coming around. Now that I'm having success, that was the whole intent in the first place. I'm barreling stuff up and I'm hitting balls hard, so I'm just going to stay right there.

Cole: Did it feel like a pretty big weight off your shoulders when that first home run finally did come on July 4?

Whittleman: Yeah, July 4th. I hit one and, oddly enough, after I waited however many games it was the first half of the season, I hit two in one game. It was a huge weight off my shoulders. People say that you don't see that stuff. But as a player, it dwells on you. Nobody talks about it, but everyone knows that all these guys out here can hit.

It's only a matter of time until you get comfortable and get in the right situation, the right area. In Springfield, the wind was blowing out to right-center for the first time all year, and I ran into a couple. From there, I just settled in and the numbers starting jumping. It's good.

Cole: Did your teammates get on you a bit for hitting two in one game after sitting on zero for so long?

Whittleman: Yeah. They all first bumped me and gave me fives after the first one. And then I hit the second one, and they all just gave me the silent treatment because they were like, ‘This is unbelievable.' They were excited for me, but they gave me a hard time over it.

Cole: Have you made any adjustments mechanically at all this year?

Whittleman: Oh yeah. Everything as far as the swing goes—they weren't changing anything with the swing. It was more so with the setup and the approach and how I was going about it at the plate from pitch-to-pitch.

Really all we did was change stance. They stood me upright, they spread me out, they opened me up, they opened me up and stood me upright. I feel like I've done it all. I like to hit with a base under me—with my legs underneath me. And we kind of came to an agreement on that. And then I went slightly open, and it has kind of worked so far. I'm just taking that and running with it. I'm trying not to lose that feel.

Cole: When did you start going slightly open?

Whittleman: I've always hit slightly open, but at one point this year, I was dead even. I almost felt like I was closed off. I went back to opened up. It was just a matter of whether I wanted to be upright or bend my legs. All your power comes from your legs, so I needed my legs under me.

Cole: I don't want to put any words in your mouth, but is this the best you've felt and the most comfortable you've felt at the plate since your first half in Clinton two years ago?

Whittleman: Yeah. Most definitely. A lot of guys in the organization say I look better now than I did in Clinton in '07 in the first half. This is definitely the best I've felt. You're not putting any words in my mouth. That's a fact of the matter.

I feel great right now, and like I said, I don't want to lose this feeling and I'm doing everything I can to hold it right there. I'm trying not to overwork. Just get enough reps in to where I feel comfortable every day, and I get that feel and then I go into the game with it.

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