Name: Kevin Whelan
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: January 8, 1984
"Obviously for me I was a little disappointed this year," said Whelan. "I never really felt like myself pitching. I was put in a different role this year. I had never been out there throwing three innings at a time, let alone starting ever.
"It was just different. I think it took a little toll on my arm but I'm glad I went through it just to get my innings up and get my arm used to that."
The former college catcher saved 27 games for the Lakeland Tigers in the Florida State League in 2006 but the Yankees used him quite differently in his first season in his new organization.
Pitching two or more innings in just three of his 51 appearances with the Tigers, the Yankees immediately began to start stretching him out in the name of development as he threw two or more innings in three of his first four appearances in pinstripes.
"We worked on changing a few things," he admitted. "It was tough. I felt like I never got comfortable with myself out there. When I was closing [games] in the past, I went up there with a different mentality. It's good going out there and learning, getting more experience. I'm looking forward to this [coming] year and getting back to being myself."
Making changes to his arm motion, pitching exclusively out the stretch, lengthening his arm slot, and incorporating more changeups in his repertoire were just a few of the changes made to his game.
Also with an eye towards repeating his delivery more consistently, team officials used him primarily as a middle reliever - not a closer - before putting him into the Tampa rotation for several starts to get even more work done.
"We worked on refining a few small things," said the Texas native. "That for me was uncomfortable at times because I had not ever thrown like that. I think it's just a matter of me getting back to doing what I had been doing - repeating my delivery but also getting my arm slot to what is normal for me.
"I've got to a point where the things we worked on this past season, I can work that into the type of pitcher I was before I came to the Yankees. I think that combination there is what is going to help me out."
Trying to bring together the best of both worlds - the power arm and fearless attitude on the mound he had with the Tigers, with the smoother mechanics, more repeatable delivery, better use of the changeup, and further development of his slider with the Yankees - Whelan knows the importance of taking a step back to take two steps forward.
"In the past I was able to go right after hitters and I think I shied away for some reason," he admitted. "Working on some things and changing some things made my shy away a bit.
"I didn't feel like myself and I didn't feel like I was as dominant as I could have been but I still threw well in Double-A and didn't get hit around. It's something that I can work off of."
Primarily a fastball-splitter pitcher with the Tigers, Whelan concentrated on expanding his arsenal by improving his changeup and slider to more serviceable pitches.
"I was real happy with how my slider progressed," said the power right-hander. "I think when I went down to Tampa to start and get my innings up, I really forced myself to throw my slider. That became a good pitch for me. That was something I needed. I knew I needed that pitch and I was pleased with how that came along."
Throwing more innings than he had ever thrown before, as well as working on so many other areas of his game, rattled his confidence in his signature pitch - his fastball, especially with his command - and he wound up walking nearly seven batters per nine innings with the Trenton Thunder.
"I thought towards the second-half of the season my command got better," he said of his fastball. "I lost my command there for a while. In the past I was able to go right after hitters and I think I shied away for some reason. Working on some things and changing some things made my shy away a bit."
Being thrown into a completely different role and a brand new organization to boot is enough to take any pitcher out of their comfort zone, not to mention totally reconstructing so many aspects of his game.
Handling it as well as anybody could however, he believes all of his struggles will allow him to be an even better pitcher in the long run.
"You can't go out there thinking about too much when you're pitching and I think I tended to do that too much this past season," he pointed out. "Next year I'm just going to go in with the attitude of just going out there and challenging hitters, kind of get back to how I used to pitch.
"I used to go out there and didn't care who I was facing, I was going right after them. I felt like I backed off a little bit for some reason. That's what I'm going to do next year, go out there with that same attitude and mentality, and see where it goes."
With the changes made to his game in 2007 now becoming quite natural to him, and becoming a better overall pitcher, he believes he is primed to make the next leap in his career.
"That's every player's goal, to make it to the big leagues," said Whelan. "I don't think there's any doubt that at some point I could be able to help the big league team out. It's just a matter of things falling into place.
"You can't really think about that though. My goal for next season is to go out there and compete, and not worry about those little things. If I go out there and take care of the things that I need to take care of, it's going to take care of itself."
And while he was used as both a middle reliever and a starter in his first season with the Yankees to get more work done, he knows his future role with the organization will be quite different.
"I love closing games. I like going at the back-end of games. I'm not saying that's all I can do and I think this year helped me with that. I love closing and it's just a different mentality and adrenaline when I do that, whether it be closing or setting up. That's where I see myself.
"I don't see myself in the big leagues being a three-inning type guy. I think I'll be their one or two-inning guy and that's what I enjoy doing."
Repertoire. Fastball, Splitter, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball. Whelan is all about the power fastball. Able to average in the mid-90's with his heat as a member of the Detroit Tigers, he wasn't sitting quite that high velocity-wise with the Yankees this past season. Perhaps because he threw so many innings or maybe he had so many other aspects of his game on his mind, he sat mostly in the 91-93 MPH range but did have a few outings where he sat consistently around 93-94 MPH. He had very shaky command of his fastball in 2007 - even walking six batters in one relief appearance for Trenton - but both Whelan and the Yankees believe that was just a product of adjusting to his new mechanics.
Other Pitches. Armed with one of the best splitters in the organization, and really his only secondary pitch upon joining the Yankees, it is his primary strikeout pitch and he feels comfortable throwing it in any situation. He entered the organization with both a slider and changeup that could only be labeled a work in progress and they became an emphasis of his development in 2007. He is now very comfortable mixing in his changeup to throw against left-handed batters and his slider made such marked improvements that it is now a third strikeout pitch for him.
Pitching. Mostly a plus fastball pitcher who would go to his splitter when he had two strikes on a batter, Whelan now has a very deep repertoire for a reliever. He can go to any one of four pitches in his current arsenal and that will help keep opposing batters guessing. He is the epitome of being fearless on the mound. His rather high walk totals this past season was not a product of trying to nibble on the corners, it was the result of working on other areas of his game. He is normally very confident on the mound and he challenges batters with the best of them - and now armed with three strikeout pitches should increase his confidence even more.
Projection. Don't let his middle reliever or starting role with the Yankees in 2007 fool you - he is a future setup man or possible closer in the making with his bulldog mentality and ability to miss bats. Nobody inside the organization seems too concerned about his slightly lower velocity this past season as they believe he will rediscover his mid-90's gas once he is comfortable with all the changes made to his game. He projects to be a Scott Proctor type someday, albeit with a deeper repertoire at his disposal, as a big league setup man but has the stuff to close in emergency situations should the need arise.
ETA. 2009. With so much thrown at him at one time, the Yankees will probably give Whelan one full minor league season to get comfortable with all the changes made to his game. Not being on the 40-man roster hurts his chances of making his big league debut in 2008, although it's certainly not out of the question. He could open up with the Double-A Trenton Thunder once again in 2008 and he should see ample time in Triple-A during the year.