Continuing our look at the Mets’ options with the seventh overall pick in June’s amateur draft, today we’ll take a look at high school righty Karsten Whitson.
School: Chipley H.S. (Tallahassee, FL)
Weight: 190 lbs.
What He Brings
Karsten Whitson brings something that no other high school pitcher in this draft can offer, not even Jameson Taillon: a combination of stuff right now, polish, and even a little bit of projection. In many ways, he’s a high school pitching prospect built for those who don’t like high school pitching prospects.
First, there’s his size. Karsten’s got a tall, lanky frame with room to add some muscle. And when pitchers add muscle, it’s conceivable that they could add a couple miles per hour to their radar gun readings. So it’s possible we haven’t seen Whitson at his best yet. And Whitson is already very good. His fastball sits around 91-94, and he’s been known to touch 96. So even if he doesn’t improve at all, he’s got solid average-to-above average velocity. And the fastball has some arm side run and a little sink to it.
He’s got a pretty good breaking pitch, too. It’s a hard slider, he’ll throw 78-81, and although it doesn’t have a lot of depth, it does have tight rotation and late break. The pitch is still a solid swing-and-miss offering.
And that polish I mentioned? First of all, he’s also got a changeup, which is already nearly average. Most prep arms have tinkered with one but have barely used it. Whitson’s arm action is loose and pretty clean. He’s got great mound presence. And his command is as good as any high school pitcher’s can reasonably be. We’re looking at a guy with three average or better pitches right now who can command all three.
What He Doesn’t Bring
Well, I touched upon one thing above. He doesn’t have a breaking pitch with a lot of depth. The slider can be an out pitch because the movement comes late and he commands it, but it doesn’t offer a lot of break. One way to solve this problem would be to get him to add a curve to his repertoire—something I’m not usually a fan of, since it usually results in him throwing the better breaking ball less often—but a curve may give him another look to show hitters, and he does have a good arm slot for it.
Issue number two concerns his mechanics. If you watch him from the side, pay attention to how he lands on his left leg. Ideally, the pitcher lands on it softly, with the knee bent a little less than 90 degrees. In Whitson’s case, he’s landing stiffly, immediately pushing up with his leg as he lands. What’s the big deal? It implies three issues, none of which are huge deals for Whitson. First, it can impair a pitcher’s control, due to the leg forcing his body away from his momentum at the moment of release. Whitson’s command is pretty good as is (but maybe it can be better). Second, a great stride shouldn’t allow you to land anything but softly. It may be that Whitson can get a little more power from his stride, either adding velocity to his fastball or taking a little stress off his shoulder. And third, Whitson’s follow-through is a little short, and I’m pretty sure the stiff leg is the reason. A good follow-through can act almost like an energy sink, allowing the pitcher’s arm to decelerate as safely as possible. If cut prematurely, it can shock the pitcher’s shoulder a second time, adding recoil to the delivery. Lengthening Whitson’s stride just a little might solve all three potential problems.
And as a final note, with his high leg kick, I can see Whitson having difficulty keeping runners close. This should always be a secondary concern, and his mechanics should not be altered. Keeping the runners off the basepaths is always preferable.
Like I said, Whitson can offer stuff and polish, and that’s rare to see in any pitcher, let alone a high school arm. I always find it very appealing when draft prospects can provide both upside and safety at the same time, much like Tyler Matzek—who I had third on my draft board—did last year. Unfortunately, he’s not quite as talented or polished as Matzek, so I’m not sure I see him as a future ace on a good team. But it’s not out of the question, and he is clearly good enough to be a good number two starter, which would make him a good selection at number seven. If he continues to pitch well up to draft day, he might not even last to the Mets’ spot.
The last thing to think about is signability. Whitson does have a commitment to Florida. I haven’t heard a thing about bonus demands, but that usually means they aren’t unrealistic, and I don’t think a team will shy away.
Edit: I had previously erroneously mentioned that Karsten was the nephew of former big leaguer Ed Whitson, as has been reported in numerous other places. It has been pointed out to me that this is not true. I have corrected this above. Sorry for the error.