2010 MLB Draft Q&A: Karsten Whitson

Burning his fastball to the plate in the mid to upper 90s, Karsten Whitson has emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in the 2010 draft. We sat down with the Floridian to discuss the details of his arsenal, the differences he saw in the international game, and a special sports skill he shares with his dad.

I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2010 has to offer each Sunday and Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.

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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you still 6'4", 190 lbs?

Karsten Whitson: I was 190 lbs in the fall, but now I'm about 210 lbs. I put on some good weight this fall. I definitely put weight on in my legs, and I tried to put a little weight on up top to strengthen my shoulder and chest muscles.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you noticed any gains in terms of velocity or stamina?

Karsten Whitson: I have actually noticed it with my stamina, and it's still early now so my velo is not what it was in the middle of the summer, but my bottom numbers, 93, 94, they've come up and been more consistent throughout the game. I can tell my stamina has gotten a lot better.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you play any other sports besides baseball?

Karsten Whitson: Yeah, I played basketball all the way through high school. I was on the varsity sophomore and junior year, and then I decided not to play this year to make sure I stayed focus on baseball and didn't have anything holding me back in the fall from working out 100% and really going after it in the weight-room.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When was it that you knew you could do something with baseball?

Karsten Whitson: I think I was always one of the better kids in our league growing up, but I'm originally from central Florida, a small town called Bartow, and we actually went to the World Series two years in a row with our youth program, Dixie Youth. So we had a good group of kids and I was probably up there in the top five percent in our league, so I was always pretty good. When I got to the high school level, with the coaching and direction, I think I got a lot better each year, and that's what has gotten me to where I am today.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you remember the first time you hit 90 MPH?

Karsten Whitson: It was the summer after my freshman year, going into my sophomore year, I hit 90 MPH, and it was pretty cool.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You have committed to Florida – what specifically drew you to the Gators?

Karsten Whitson: Well, both of my parents graduated from the University of Florida, I've always been a huge Gator fan, and the coaching staff is great. Coach Sully is a tremendous pitching coach and a great guy, and I felt like I can learn a lot working underneath him. It's just a great school to be a part of.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Was it one of those situations where you have a legacy there, so as long as they didn't completely blow it, you were going to commit?

Karsten Whitson: You know, a lot of people have said that, but actually I took a step back and just wanted to make sure I was taking the right school, because I was obviously recruited by a lot of the top schools. I just wanted to make it feel right, I wanted to make sure there were good coaches that were going to take care of me, and it was a place where I felt I fit in. So the colors, the orange and blue, I'm not going to sit here and say it didn't matter because it definitely did, but that was just the icing on the cake for me.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What were those other schools that you were considering?

Karsten Whitson: I was considering Florida State, LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, most of the big-time schools around my area. I committed in the fall of my junior year though, so it was a bit early for those other schools to recruit me.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How much have you thought about the draft?

Karsten Whitson: I try not to think about it. I know during the summer you've got these showcase events and you're there for a reason with all the top guys and certain people are trying to get looks at you. That was a lot of fun, but right now I'm just trying to have fun, go out there and just go at it and compete. I feel like if I play at the level that I'm capable of and do what I'm supposed to do, the draft will take care of itself.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you dream of when you picture being a professional baseball player?

Karsten Whitson: I see waking up every day and going to work, only work happens to be the baseball field. That's got to be the biggest dream in my head, I just couldn't see myself doing anything else. It's crazy to think about the idea that baseball could be your job every day, so I just think about getting up, going to work, and my work being baseball.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you heard from all 30 teams at this point?

Karsten Whitson: I haven't heard from all 30 teams, but I had in-house visits this fall with probably 20-25 teams. That was a lot of fun – seeing and meeting different people from different teams and just talking baseball with them.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: We're the Yankees one of them?

Karsten Whitson: Yes, they were.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Can you give me a description of your arsenal?

Karsten Whitson: Well, I'd have to say my best pitch is probably my fastball. I'm kind of a three-quarters guy, I'm not directly over the top, and my four-seamer has a great life on it – some great run- and it's been up to 97 MPH this summer, but 93-95 MPH is where I sit. I also throw a two-seam sinker which is about 90-91 MPH, and it's got an even harder sink to it. I actually just started throwing a slider my junior year so I haven't even been throwing it a full year, and that's definitely my strikeout pitch. It's been up to 86 MPH, it's usually 84-86 MPH, and I can take a little bit off of it to start off a batter, or really bury it 0-2. My third pitch is my circle changeup, it's got really good arm-side run to it, good arm-action, and comes in about 80-81 MPH.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your mindset on the field? How do you appear to a fan watching the game?

Karsten Whitson: Any fan who comes to watch me is going to see a kid that just loves the game. I'm always going to support my teammates – if a guy makes a bad play or something I'm going to tell him, "hey, I'm going to try and get the next ball to come to you because I want you to make a play for me," or if a guy makes a great play in the outfield, yeah, I'll fist-pump because I'm so into it. I'm very competitive and I hate to lose, I just get a great feeling stepping out on the mound, going after hitters, and just challenging guys. If a couple of guys get on base or something, and the team on the other side starts to talk a little smack, I'll just strike somebody out and give them a nice little fist–pump as I run off the field – it's great [laughs].

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What team were you a fan of growing up?

Karsten Whitson: Well, being that my dad is from Atlanta, and I have family there, obviously the Braves…

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: …let me guess, you're a huge Chipper Jones guy?

Karsten Whitson: Not Chipper, I was actually an Andruw Jones guy! I also loved Javy Lopez back when he played for the Braves. Those are my two guys, not pitchers, but I chose the Braves just because they were the hometown team. As I watch baseball now, as I've grown more mature, it's not just the team that interests me, it's the individual players. So if I'm watching TV, the Red Sox are playing, and Beckett's throwing, I'll tune in to watch him and just try to pick up any little thing that I can learn and maybe use in my next start. Instead of just watching the Braves, now I'm more about seeing who's pitching on TV this week, and me and my dad will sit down and watch to see how he might set up a hitter or two.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who are those guys that you look for?

Karsten Whitson: I look at Beckett, AJ Burnett for the Yankees, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson for the Marlins - guys that kind of have my velo and can really pound it. I like to see what other pitches they have, and it seems that most of them have a really hard slider, so I guess that's kind of good for me. I like to see how they compete, especially things like how they react when they give up a homerun, because I'm kind of in awe when a guy is throwing 97 MPH and he gives up a bomb in the upper deck, I'm like "Geez," but then he just gets the ball back and goes after it again.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal any pitch from anyone else in your draft class, whose would it be, and why?

Karsten Whitson: This is going to be funny, but it would have to be Jameson Taillon's curveball. I'd always thrown a curveball when I was growing up, through my freshman and sophomore year, and it was okay, but his curveball is just filthy – he throws his curveball as hard as I throw my slider! I was on Team USA this past fall, and just sitting there watching him throw his pen and stuff I got to see that curveball, and it's just got some heavy, heavy bite to it; it's really nasty. I'm not just saying this because we're good friends, but I haven't seen a better pitch than his curveball. I really would steal his curveball if I had the chance to. I don't know if I'd want to pick a fight with him to get it though, he's about 6'6" – a lot bigger than me!

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who is the toughest hitter you've faced thus far?

Karsten Whitson: I'll have to go with Austin Smith from Pensacola Catholic. I'm not intimidated by him, but he's just a big guy and he's had really good approaches every time I've faced him. I actually just played that team and got beat 2-0. I faced him three times, struck him out once and hit him twice, and I told him after the game that I was trying to pound him inside. I said to him, "man, I can't give in to you and leave something out over the plate because you're going to crush it," and he started laughing. It's kind of hard to pick just one kid because you go to certain showcases and you face one kid one time, but I actually faced him four to five times last summer, so just by facing him a few times I can say he's the toughest hitter that I've faced.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you gotten any comparisons from scouts?

Karsten Whitson: Yeah, I've actually heard a lot of different comparisons, but I think the one that most fits me is "an AJ Burnett-type guy". He throws a hard fastball and he throws that breaking pitch that's not a slider, more like a slurve, but it's a really hard breaking pitch, and he's just a go-getter on the mound. He's tough and intimidating, so I'd have to say him. Another reason why I picked him is because that two-seamer he throws – I just watched some video on him – he gets some serious arm-side run. He can go inside to a lefty – I saw one at-bat today when a guy turned like it was going to hit him and it came back across the plate for a strike.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What was it like being down in Venezuela with Team USA?

Karsten Whitson: Oh man, it was great. It was the experience of a lifetime that I'll never forget, and the thing that made it so great was being there with a great group of guys. It was just a fun team to be around, you had guys from California, Colorado, Tennessee, Florida – guys with different personalities from all across the country – but we had one goal when we came together, and that was to win the gold medal, and we did! The experience was great though, and you really had to get along with everybody because the team was the only people you had down in Venezuela. I was very fortunate to be a part of that team and to make some good friends out of it.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Did you notice any differences in the international hitters from specific countries?

Karsten Whitson: Yeah, there were some differences. A team like Argentina had a bunch of little kids and they would just slap the ball and take off running, fast as lightning. Team's like Cuba liked to hit the longball – I don't think they even know what a sacrifice bunt is, they just get up there and swing for the fences every time. There was obviously a difference in the way they each played the game, and it was great.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is the biggest thing you want to focus on going into this season?

Karsten Whitson: The biggest thing I want to focus on is just going out there and doing the best that I can do, and not worry about or get frustrated with anything that happens behind me on the field. Keep a good, calm, and collected composure on the mound, compete, have a good attitude, and be a great team leader. I'm a senior, so I'm going to try and help the younger kids on the team especially, and try to teach them something about the game that my coach didn't tell them. I've played in different showcases and been to Venezuela, so I think it's good for me to let kids know how it all was and try to help them with different aspects of the game.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you like to do off the field?

Karsten Whitson: Off the field I like to do a lot of fishing; I've entered a couple of bass tournaments actually. I like to do some hunting, and one thing people might not know is that I'm a really good ping-pong player.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Ping-Pong? Really?

Karsten Whitson: Yep, me and dad will do it up every night in the backyard out there on the porch.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who wins?

Karsten Whitson: It's about 50/50. He's really good, too – he had a ping-pong table when he was a kid as well, so we split about 50/50.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So what is it like for you having these amazing opportunities in front of you, as well as the pressures that come with them, yet still try to balance that with being a normal 18 year old?

Karsten Whitson: It definitely is kind of hard; It's hard, but it's also a good thing. It's a good problem to have because I'm very fortunate to be in a spot where I have the potential to get drafted, and worst case I go to UF which is a great school and has a baseball program that is on the rise right now with Coach O'Sullivan at the helm. I have a close group of friends and we just do stuff together all the time; go down to the beach and hang out, or go fishing – something where I don't have to talk about baseball. I think that's one of the biggest things – it's not baseball 24/7, and I think that's fair to me, to get a little break and hang out with my friends so really I don't have to stress over it, or even think about it at all. So I feel comfortable, and can get away when I need to, when I'm hanging out with my friends.

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