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You will often see a minor league starter become a Major League reliever. You will almost never see a minor league reliever become a Major League starter. That is, unless you’re tuned into the Mets-Yankees game on Thursday to watch Chase Whitley make his Big League debut.
It’s not the first time the Ranburne, Alabama-native has defied the odds. Coming out of Troy University, the Yankees drafted Whitley in the 15th round of the 2010 amateur draft. Despite being drafted in the 15th, Whitley has impressively stormed through the Yanks’ farm system, posting stellar numbers along the way. A reliever by trade, the Yankees turned the 24-year-old into a starter last season and now, despite playing in a league obsessed with top-round draft picks and top-100 prospect status, Whitley will start the final game of the Subway Series against the Amazin’s.
Naturally, most fans have never heard of Whitley, partly because he lacks the coveted top-100 prospect label, but mostly because he’s been a relief pitcher through most of his minor league career. That doesn’t mean he isn’t very deserving of high praise.
After being drafted in 2010, Whitley made 30 relief appearances in Single-A, posting 15 saves, a 1.45 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 50 strikeouts to 15 walks.
In 2011, Whitley appeared in 42 games between High-A and Double-A, posting a 2.47 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts to 29 walks.
In 2012, Whitley appeared in 43 games, mostly in Triple-A, where he posted a 3.09 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 73 strikeouts to 27 walks.
Last year, he was used in 29 games as a reliever and spot starter (five starts in 2012) and once again posted a strong 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 62 strikeouts to 21 walks.
This is the first year the Whitley has been used primarily as a starter and he has run with the opportunity, going 3-2 with a 2.39 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts to just seven walks over six starts and one relief outing.
Clearly, there is not much more for Whitley to do in Triple-A so, despite the lack of top prospect status and hype, he deserves a call-up. With the Yankees reeling with C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova out, the Yankees need Whitley desperately.
So what can we reasonably expect from Whitley in his first stint in the Majors?
For one, few runs. Although minor league production can only foretell so much, Whitley has never posted an ERA over 3.09 in any of his four seasons in the minors. Granted, that’s as a minor league reliever and not a Major League starter but it’s certainly not to be dismissed. Besides, he’s only pitched better when given the opportunity to start.
While his ERA has consistently been great, his WHIP has fluctuated somewhat but mostly because of hits rather than walks. He has a fairly consistent 2.9 walk per nine rate over his minor league career, which isn’t great, but strong when compared to his 8.6 strikeout rate (10.9 K/9 this season). He has had seasons with 6.8 hits per nine or fewer. But he has also had seasons with 8.6 hits per nine. Luckily, he has only given up 0.6 home runs per nine innings over his career, 0.4 per nine last year, and has yet to give up a home run over 26.1 innings this season, so there’s not a ton of risk for a blowup.
With a four-pitch arsenal, Whitley profiles better as a starter and could be able to post strong ERAs, solid WHIPs, and about 8 K:3 BB per nine.
Of course, Scranton isn’t New York. Aside from just the media landscape, Yankee Stadium can be brutal on pitchers, especially righties, and the division features strong offenses in Toronto and Boston, and sometimes even Tampa.
There will be stumbling blocks but, if given the chance, Whitley could defy the odds once again. At the very least, with the Yankees’ rotation in all sorts of hurt, Whitley will get the chance to prove himself. It’s well worth watching how he does on Thursday and beyond, though I wouldn’t run out to grab him on spec alone.
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