Garrett Whitley left Niskayuna for Florida in mid-February, started his first spring training as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization in early March . . . and just got done a few days ago with that portion of his season.
“Extended [spring training] is a grind,” Whitley said Tuesday. “Anyone you talk to about it will tell you the same things: it’s hot in Florida, you’re up early in the morning every day, and it’s something you have to go through [as] a young guy.
“Now,” the center fielder added, “I’m excited that part’s over.”
And the fun part is starting.
Whitley, 19, found out this past Friday he’d been assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League, a Class A short-season league that also includes the Tri-City ValleyCats. The Renegades’ first game is this Friday against the Aberdeen IronBirds.
“I got here [to Fishkill] Sunday,” said Whitley, a 2015 Niskayuna High School graduate who will wear No. 24 this season for the Renegades. “I got my assignment Friday after my practice, and then I was in the car Saturday morning driving up here.”
After playing most of his 2015 season in the Gulf Coast League, Whitley ended last summer playing for the Renegades. In 42 games during his rookie year in the minor leagues, Whitley hit .174, but showed power and speed — 10 extra-base hits in 138 at-bats, plus eight stolen bases — between his two teams.
Whitley missed about six weeks of action this spring dealing with a right hamstring injury. He said he had hoped to start the year with the Bowling Green Hot Rods — the Rays’ Class A affiliate in the Midwest League, a step up from the New York-Penn League — but was not disappointed to be with the Renegades again. When he was going through the process last year leading up to the Rays’ selection of him with the No. 13 pick in the Major League Baseball amateur draft, officials made sure Whitley knew the road through the minor leagues is a long one.
“They all told me the timeline that teams hope for with a high schooler is four to six years in the minors,” said Whitley, who mlbpipeline.com’s ranking has as the fourth-best prospect in the Rays’ system.
Just more than a year removed from his own draft night excitement, Whitley said he did make sure to watch this year’s MLB draft to see the Atlanta Braves select his friend Ian Anderson, a Shenendehowa senior pitcher, with the third overall pick.
“That was really exciting to watch,” said Whitley, who teamed with Anderson a couple years ago in an all-star event.
For himself, Whitley said he’s excited for the opportunity to play back in New York. His mother, he said, has already told him she’ll be attending at least a couple dozen of his games. Even more friendly faces will be in the crowd later in the season for Whitley if he remains with Hudson Valley through August, as the Renegades play the ValleyCats at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy from Aug. 20-22.
Getting exposure at the end of last season to what the competition level is like in the New York-Penn League has helped Whitley stay calm as he readies for Friday’s game.
“I know what I’m looking at for this year and that helps me stay relaxed,” he said.
In advance of Friday, Whitley said he’s been practicing with his team and getting his “body clock” reset. After spending most of his spring waking up everyday at 6 a.m. to be ready for morning practices, he’s now on a much more teen-friendly sleep schedule since he’ll be playing night games throughout the summer.
“Honestly,” he said, “that’s one of the things I’m most excited about.”