Name: Kevin Whelan
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: January 8, 1984
"Actually, this is probably the first time I've felt like myself in probably a year," Whelan said in the Arizona Fall League this offseason. "I threw rehab most of this season."
Spending his first season with the Yankees a year ago making changes to his delivery and repertoire, including even moving to the starting rotation for a spell, he developed some forearm soreness in his first trip to the Arizona Fall League in 2007.
The timing of the injury prevented him from working out last offseason. He wasn't able to work out his upper-body at all and that put him behind schedule this season, rehabbing most of Spring Training and he missed the first six weeks of the season as a result.
"I went up to Trenton and I still didn't feel good and it still bothered me a little bit towards the end," he added, 'but right now I feel no pain and I'm finally feeling like myself."
He made just 24 combined appearances [less than half of the appearances he made in his last season in the Tigers organization back in 2006] between high-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this past season and posted a 4.50 ERA with 29 walks in 38 innings.
"During the season this year, I didn't do it [attacking the strike zone] as much as I wanted," Whelan admitted, "but it's also that I didn't feel like myself because my arm was still bothering me."
The effects of being unable to throw a baseball or even lift weights over the offseason were more daunting than Whelan had envisioned and it zapped him of some of his power.
"It just took longer to come back from than I expected," he said. "I missed all of Spring Training, went through Extended [Spring Training], then to Tampa, and then came [to Trenton]."
It's a problem for any pitcher to miss development time due to injury, but in the case of Whelan who moved from catcher to pitcher and amassed less than forty innings with Texas A&M University before being drafted, his lost time has made him one of more raw hurlers at the Double-A level.
"I think he's healthy now, finally," said Scott Aldred, Whelan's pitching coach in Trenton and in the Arizona Fall League. "It's a start. He's been battling that arm injury all summer.
"His slider's not where it needs to be yet, but he's got a good out-pitch in his split but he doesn't locate his fastball all the time. I'd just like to see him throw more strikes and keep his stuff within the strike zone. He's got some work to do."
Repertoire. Fastball, Splitter, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball. Whelan reportedly sat in the 93-95 MPH range and topped out at 97 MPH with his fastball while a member of the Detroit Tigers organization, but he hasn't been able to duplicate the same kind of velocity in Pinstripes. He has mostly sat in the 91-94 MPH range over the past two seasons and he spent a good portion of the early season this year sitting a tick or two lower because of the missed time. He does have good movement with his fastball so the upper-90's velocity isn't needed for it to be very effective, but he does struggle commanding his fastball consistently.
Other Pitches. What makes Whelan, who averages 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, a prolific strikeout pitcher is his plus splitter. He can command it very well and it simply handcuffs opposing batters. He has spent the last two seasons developing his slider and straight changeup. The slider has gotten a little bit better but it's not a strikeout weapon as of yet. He doesn't have the confidence to go to it in hitters' counts, often times throwing it as a get-me-over strike to get ahead in the count. He does throw a changeup as his fourth pitch but it isn't a true mainstay in his repertoire at this point, and the further development of it took a back seat to his slider and mechanics this past season.
Pitching. Whelan is a much better pitcher when he's ahead in the count, thanks mostly to his incredible splitter. His problem, however, is his inability to get ahead in counts consistently because his fastball command can be quite erratic. A catcher in college who had thrown with a shorter arm action and release as a pitcher, the Yankees have tried improving his fastball command by lengthening his arm slot over the past two seasons and he has had a difficult time finding his comfort level with the new mechanics. As a result, and partly due to the lost development time with his forearm injury, his command has actually gotten worse with the Yankees. The nagging injury and changes made to his game have rattled his confidence on the mound too, and that has only exacerbated the problem. The good news is he is naturally very confident and it doesn't take him long to find hot stretches command-wise. There has been some discussion of allowing him to go back to the shorter arm action to help him find his comfort zone.
Projection. When he's going right, Whelan has the stuff and the bulldog mentality to be a very effective late-inning reliever as a possible setup man or closer at the big league level. The catch-22, however, is he has been on a bit of a roller-coaster with his confidence and command since joining the organization, and that makes him a bit more of a question mark for a pitcher at the higher minor league levels. Rediscovering his higher velocity and throwing more strikes earlier in the counts would go a long way towards fulfilling his vast potential. In a lot of ways he compares favorably to Florida Marlins reliever Henry Owens, another former college catcher who possesses some nasty stuff but struggles with command at times, and one whose inconsistent mechanics could make him a higher injury risk as well.
ETA. 2010. Even possessing some nasty stuff, Whelan was not only not protected by the Yankees on the 40-man roster this offseason, but he went unselected as well and that proves he needs more seasoning. He has ended each of the last two seasons in Double-A and it seems to be his likely starting point in 2009.