BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — From the circus that surrounded his final season of baseball at Niskayuna High School, to the hoopla of draft night where he became a first-round pick and his whirlwind of a rookie season as a minor leaguer, Garrett Whitley rarely had a chance to breathe in 2015.
Now, after a couple months spent recharging his batteries, Niskayuna’s human baseball machine is ready to be done with his first offseason as a professional
“I’ve been getting a little stir-crazy waiting for this season to come,” Whitley said.
The break is almost complete for Whitley, who left Wednesday for Florida. There, he will have a few weeks to work out on his own at the Tampa Bay Rays’ facilities in Port Charlotte before he officially reports March 4 to spring training.
“I need to get my legs back under me and I’ll take some fly balls to make sure I’m ready for spring training,” Whitley said of the immediate weeks ahead of him.
Whitley, who will turn 19 years old a few days after he reports to spring training, has changed little in his personal life since the Rays selected him No. 13 overall last June and delivered him a $2.96 million signing bonus. He has his own apartment in Florida — not too far from the Rays’ facilities — but spent most of his winter in his hometown hanging out with younger siblings Aaron and Lindsey.
“I really didn’t do anything super big . . . but I did buy a car,” said Whitley, who had previously been borrowing his parents’ vehicles before purchasing his black 2016 Audi Q5.
Whitley had earned time to unwind. He signed his contract with the Rays less than a week after his high school graduation and soon began playing for the franchise’s Gulf Coast League affiliate. Then, a week before his rookie professional season was expected to finish, he was promoted to play for the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Rays’ team in the New York-Penn League.
Whitley only hit .174, but showed power and speed — 10 extra-base hits in 138 at-bats, plus eight stolen bases — in 42 games between the two stops. Not long after his minor league season was complete, he played in an instructional league before ending his 2015 baseball year with a five-day trip to check out the Rays’ baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
That trip, Whitley said, was just his second outside of the United States.
“I’d only been to Canada,” he said.
Heading into his first spring training, Whitley admitted he does not know much of what to expect when he officially reports. He’s not too worried, either.
“I’m just happy to be getting back out on the field with all my boys and getting to play ball for real again,” he said.
In the past couple of months, outlets that report and analyze the minor league systems of Major League Baseball franchise have been kind to Whitley. In general, he’s been ranked as one of the Rays’ top-five prospects, his combination of power and speed helping him to stand out from the pack.
Whitley said he has not been given a sense of where he will start his 2016 season. Likely, he will play on one of the Rays’ four teams below the Double-A level, his placement based on how well he performs during March.
“But it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “I believe they’re going to make the best decision for my development in regards to where I’ll go. I just really want to play. I’ll be happy with wherever I go.”