Rays pick skilled high school outfielder Garrett Whitley

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The Tampa Bay Rays, who have struggled in the draft in recent years, have gone back to school to try to get better.

The Rays drafted high school outfielder Garrett Whitley with the 13th pick of the first-year Wednesday night. Whitley, from Niskayuna High School in New York, was projected as the second-best outfielder in the draft.

Whitley hit .351 with three home runs in his 20 games.

Whitley has signed a letter-of-intent to play for Wake Forest. However, he said “I think I’m ready to go on to my pro career.”

Asked how he would define his strengths, Whitley said, “My strongest attributes are my speed and power. That power speed combination isn’t something that you see very often, and I think that makes me a special player.”

Most of the questions about Whitley, an admitted Red Sox fan, concern the level of competition he has faced. He doesn’t think that will be a problem, however.

“I absolutely believe I can play with anybody on the field. Just because I’m from the Northeast doesn’t mean I’m any worse of a player, and I think I showed that on the circuit last summer. I think Northeast guys get a bad rap because we don’t play year-round, but I think more guys have been coming out of here and succeeding playing against guys from all over the country and doing well. I think it will be an adjustment because I’m going to be moving from high school to professional baseball. And yes, I was facing 75 mph, 80 mph this spring, but I think I’ll make the adjustment just like I made last summer.”

In the second round, the Rays drafted catcher Chris Betts, who has committed to the University of Tennessee.

Rays’ president of baseball operations Matt Silverman, obviously, likes the first selection.

“He is as advertised, a very athletic outfielder,” Silverman said. “Good tools, good upside. The kind of raw materials that you love to be able to take and put into your system and watch him grow and develop over the next several years.

“You can pick apart every player that’s been picked so far and players that will be picked afterwards. We value the whole package and we look for players who have an ability to impact our club in the future. It’s always a bet, there’s always projection and imagination involved. Given the tools and given the quality of person he is, we felt this was a great pick for us at 13.”

Scouting director R.J. Harrison described Whitley as having special skills.

“Size, strength, athleticism, explosiveness, bat speed, runner, very intelligent,” he said. “This guy has really, really good tools. He’s that classic cold-weather kid that hasn’t gotten a chance to play like kids from Georgia, down here and Southern California. So getting to watch him play against good competition last summer, and we watched him for a 10-day stretch, and he just got better and better and better, which is what the elite athletes are capable of doing.”

“He sticks out because he’s an athlete. You watch him take BP and run and those guys separate themselves. Before your eyes they go from a raw athlete to this guy just keeps getting better. And then by the end of it you go, ‘This guy is an athletic baseball player.’”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.