Whitson grateful Red Sox took chance on him
Former No. 9 overall pick by San Diego goes to Boston in 11th round
Karsten Whitson was at or near the top of every list imaginable as an 18-year-old kid in 2010. He was No. 3 on Baseball America's Top 100 High School Prospects list, the No. 2 player in the state of Florida by Prospectwire.com and, grandest of all, the ninth-overall pick by the Padres in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
But after a lot of "self-reflection," Whitson elected to leave $2.1 million on the table and attend the University of Florida because he wasn't ready for the rigors of professional baseball. Four years, a shoulder surgery and some ups and downs later, the Red Sox have taken a chance on Whitson in the 11th round of the 2014 Draft, one the right-hander is humbled by and grateful for.
He'll forego the one year of eligibility he has remaining because of a medical redshirt and sign with the Red Sox in the coming weeks.
"The Red Sox saw something in me and they're giving me an opportunity to work hard for a team that's sticking their neck out for me," Whitson said by phone Saturday. "Some other teams are looking at negative of my situation. It humbles me that Boston sees positives in a kid that still has a lot to offer."
Whitson's first year at Florida went as planned. He picked up right where he left off in high school, and the accolades continued to roll in. The Chipley, Fla., native was Perfect Game's National Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2011 after posting a 2.40 ERA and an 8-1 mark as a weekend starter for the Gators.
But two years later, Whitson felt shoulder fatigue leading up to the 2013 season when he would once again be Draft eligible. He elected to have shoulder surgery to repair an impingement, meaning the shoulder was intact without any labrum or rotator cuff damage. Renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure, and the rehab process was expected to take about four months, ending Whitson's season.
The Nationals selected Whitson in the 37th round of the 2013 Draft, a 1,117-spot (and $2 million) drop from where the Padres took him in 2010.
It was a difficult to decision to pass up the Padres' offer and one not often made by a player selected No. 9 overall. But Whitson has no regrets and believes he's better off because of it. His mother and father both attended the University of Florida and Whitson said he wouldn't trade his experiences in Gainesville for anything.
"Physically, mentally, emotionally, dealing with ups and downs, I'm in position where I can go out and play baseball and those experiences are going to help me in the long run," Whitson said. "I feel like I'm definitely ready for the rigors."
While he'll still have to deal with the grind of pro baseball, something he won't have to deal with are high expectations from the baseball world. Since the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty isn't topping any prospect lists in 2014, he's flying under the radar.
"He's ready to prove some people wrong. The pressure will be off of him," said Andy Compton, his coach at Chipley High School. "I think physically, he's ready to go. Once he gets on the mound and gets in a rhythm, he'll definitely advance [through the system]."
Whitson posted a 3.86 ERA and .248 average against in nine starts and five relief appearances for the Gators in 2014. Whitson didn't lose his velocity --- his fastball clocked in at 96 mph in the SEC Tournament --- but instead struggled at times with command and overall feel for pitching.
"It was tough to trust that you're 100 percent," Whitson said. "Pitching like this was tough, because you're still trying to get back. And when you're not pitching up to your capabilities, it's tough for coach to run you out there."
Whitson will get another chance with the Red Sox, and he's excited to not top any lists like he was coming out of high school. He's excited to take care of himself on the mound and nothing else.
"I've always been trying to meet others expectations, worrying about what other people think," Whitson said. "I'm definitely in a situation that I'm going to fully embrace. Being under the radar is what I need."
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.