BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Center fielder Garrett Whitley is widely considered to be one of the brightest prep baseball stars in the country, but he is likely to find few chances to shine in his senior season for the Niskayuna Silver Warriors.
Coming off a 2014 season in which he hit .474 and an offseason during which he became a first-round fixture in mock drafts for the 2015 Major League Baseball draft, Whitley’s problem is a pretty unusual one. Simply put, he might be too good for his own good.
“I’m just hoping teams pitch to me,” Whitley said at a March 18 practice.
In all likelihood, opposing teams won’t do that. Whitley was walked 13 times last season in Niskayuna’s 19 games, and he is likely to be granted even more free passes in 2015. Both Niskayuna head coach John Furey and Whitley are expecting teams to pitch around the star with great frequency this season, and Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu chuckled a bit when recently asked if the Silver Warriors’ suspicions are correct.
“We’ve had a lot of respect for him the last few years — and [our respect] will be even greater this season,” he said of Whitley.
In other words: Yes, the free passes are coming for Whitley, who said that tactic will slow him down only so much.
“If teams decide to walk me all the time, I’ll just take first — and then steal second and third,” he said.
And, what about home?
“I’ve never tried that,” he said, smiling.
Whitley was a second-team all-state selection in 2014 and a first-team selection for the Suburban Council. But his star shone the brightest in the offseason, when he excelled at summer showcases in front of professional scouts. While Whitley has signed to play college baseball at Wake Forest, he is expected to be drafted high enough in June’s MLB draft that he will likely be playing next year in the minor leagues instead of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“Garrett is a special kid,” said Christodulu. “You don’t see the likes of him coming through this area too often.”
Whitley was recently named a Baseball America Preseason High School All-America second-team selection, and a recent preseason practice for the Silver Warriors included visit from a Cleveland Indians scout. Furey said that Whitley has handled the attention and publicity with grace.
“He just lets everything roll off his shoulders,” Furey said.
“I really don’t think about it too much,” said Whitley, who could have an MLB team offering him a couple million dollars to play baseball in a few months. “It’s fun to know people will be here when the games start and that guys want to watch me play.”
Those “people” and “guys” are professional scouts, whom Whitley said he needs to keep updated with his team’s schedule.
“But I’m just getting ready for the season,” said Whitley. “I worked out all offseason like normal, and I’m ready to get back here and be a team player.”
Joe Apkarian, Whitley’s classmate and teammate, said the rest of the Silver Warriors view Whitley as a teammate and not a baseball prodigy. The club’s players grew up playing together, and Apkarian said they are used to seeing Whitley do incredible things on the diamond. The only weird thing so far about the preseason, Apkarian said, is when that Cleveland scout showed up to see Whitley.
“When the scout was here, it was like, ‘Oh — is there a pro scout at our varsity baseball practice?’ ” said Apkarian. “That was kind of awesome.”
That scout was smart to see Whitley before Niskayuna’s season starts April 7 with a game against Ballston Spa, as batting practice is likely the best chance to see Whitley’s stroke this season. Furey said the club could move Whitley from his usual No. 3 spot in the order up a notch or two to try to take advantage of the coming walks, but that Whitley’s place in the lineup could change throughout the season.
What won’t change, Whitley said, is that the senior will be ready to attack whatever fastballs he gets near the plate in 2015.
“If I get that pitch,” said Whitley, “I’m going to hit it.”