Whittleman bulks up for big season

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Third baseman John Whittleman had a disappointing year at Double-A Frisco last season, so he worked hard to get into the best shape of his life over the offseason. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 23-year-old prospect.

Third baseman John Whittleman has a big year ahead of him. As he puts it in the following interview, he has a ‘do-or-die' year ahead of him.

The Rangers' second-round pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, Whittleman represented the club in the MLB All-Star Futures game after his outstanding first half with Single-A Clinton in 2007.

However, Whittleman hasn't been the same player since. He struggled after a late-season promotion to Bakersfield in 2007 and batted just .257 with the Blaze in '08. Playing in his first full Double-A season last summer, Whittleman hit .224 with 28 doubles and 10 home runs.

Even when he has struggled to hit for average, the native Texan has always drawn walks. In Whittleman's four full professional seasons, he has totaled 60, 86, 89 and 80 walks, respectively.

While the 23-year-old is a patient hitter with an excellent eye for the strike zone, he also has some raw tools, including a sweet left-handed swing. Whittleman put on quite a bit of muscle over the offseason, and he has been tattooing the ball in batting practice and in games thus far this Spring Training.

A breakout season is a must for Whittleman, who will almost surely be buried in the system if he does not perform this year. The third baseman is still relatively young and he still has the tools for success.

Lone Star Dugout spoke with Whittleman after a recent game in which he belted a home run.

Jason Cole: It looks like you put on quite a bit of muscle over the offeason. What was your training regimen like over the offseason, and what was your thought process going into it?

John Whittleman: I've always sat at about 200 pounds. Then this offseason, going into it, I hired a dietician. I also got this trainer. He and my dietician all worked out at the same gym. The dietician was Travis Ortmayer's dietician, and he helped me a lot with just eating right.

We got on this right program with eating, and it all started right there. The pounds started packing on and I got a little bit big–too big. Then I started working out heavier and heavier. I kind of got a little pudgy there and then turned that into some muscle. It was just a lot of time in the weight room and spending a lot of time with those guys.

Cole: Had you ever worked out like that in an offseason before?

Whittleman: No, this is the first year. I never had used a dietician before and I never had gotten into the weight lifting like that. I did just enough to get me ready to go in Spring Training and then I finished it up out here.

But this year, I wanted to get out here just a couple days before I had to be here. Then, when I got here, I knew camp was fixing to start so I was ready to reach my peak. I want to just maintain that. Going in, I pushed myself harder, and whenever we got here I was ready to go.

Cole: From watching BP and in games so far, it seems like that added strength is carrying over to your game on the field. How do you feel physically at the plate right now?

Whittleman: At the plate, it's coming. This is probably my fifth or sixth game of live pitching, so it's coming. It is definitely not where you want it to be, and I definitely don't want to peak too early. In the past, I've gone off pretty good in Spring Training and then the season starts and you just can't get it going.

At the plate, it's coming around right now. I'm not expecting too much, but at the same time I just want to have a good approach and a good plan and stick to that. I don't want to go up there just thinking about one thing and going to another the next at-bat. I want to stick with one thing that day and just ride that out. That's kind of my goal this year–to get something to stay with.

Cole: From when you started in pro ball and your first few years to now, have you altered your approach at all?

Whittleman: Yeah, definitely. When I came up, some people called it passive. They said I was a passive hitter–that I take a lot of pitches. I still–I don't want to take away from my discipline at my plate and my strike zone–knowing the strike zone. But I'm trying to get more aggressive right now. I'm changing things as far as coming up there ready to hit. But I'm trying not to take as many pitches.

That's one thing that I've changed, and I have noticed a lot as I've gotten older and gotten into Double-A and Triple-A stuff. They're going to come with one pitch, and if you miss that pitch, I'm going to be hitting their pitch for the rest of the at-bat. I'm trying to be more aggressive and not pass up as many fastballs or balls up in the zone whether they're spinning or straight.

Cole: I heard from plenty of people last year that you were very unlucky. You squared up on an usually high percentage of balls that were hit straight to fielders. Had you ever been through anything like that, and was it difficult to keep your confidence high during that time?

Whittleman: Oh yeah, definitely. It's easy to say, ‘Oh man, keep swinging it. You're doing great. You're hitting balls hard.' But eventually, this is a game of results and numbers. People want to see that stuff. And whenever you're not getting those numbers or results out, people start questioning you. Like, ‘What kind of outs are they?' Sure enough, I was hitting balls hard.

It turned around there in the month of July. I got on a little roll there, and balls started leaving the yard and I was getting some gappers and doubles and stuff. But it is definitely frustrating to go up there and hit and not have any results for it. People ask questions like, ‘What's going on?' I say, ‘I'm hitting balls hard. You guys just aren't here to see it.' It's good that other people notice that, because that's one thing in a player's mind, like, ‘What am I doing?'

Cole: Last year in Spring Training you talked about what a big year you had ahead of yourself. It would seem like 2010 is an even bigger year. What are your thoughts going into this season?

Whittleman: Every year is a big year. Last year was definitely a big year just due to the fact that, from my personal circumstance, what I was about to go into. A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on the protection year. You always want to have a good year–last year I thought was a big year, and this year is an even bigger year for me, like you said. As far as going back to Double-A probably–I've been there, I know what to expect and my new approach. I'm trying to be a little more aggressive with stuff. But every year is a big year–I can't express that enough.

I'm treating this year as kind of a do-or-die. I'm going to go this year–I'm going to make something of my career or else I'm going to be a lifetime minor leaguer. That's what it feels like. I'm going into this year just thinking that this is it. Do or die right now. I'm not trying to put any pressure on myself, but I want to go out there and perform and have results early instead of being frustrated for the first three months of the season.

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