One prospect on the rise in the Rays loaded system is RHP Daiveyon Whittle. Selected in the 23rd round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Fresno City College, Whittle only tossed 7.0 IP in his professional debut. He pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2019 and experienced a true breakout season. Across 47.1 IP, Whittle owned an impressive 0.95 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, while stifling opposing hitters to a lowly .208 BAA. He utilizes a smooth delivery to consistently pound the strike zone with a lively arsenal, complete with a fastball, slider and an enticing splitter that are all developing as potential plus offerings. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to Whittle, a pitcher we should all be eager to learn more about.
Jake Wiener: Did you play any other sports growing up, and what ultimately attracted you to baseball?
Daiveyon Whittle: Growing up I played basically every sport I could except football. My dad wouldn’t let me, and baseball was just a love at first sight thing. I had seen the Yankees play Boston and a person that stood out was Derek Jeter. Just his swagger, the way he carried himself. You could see his love for the game and when I saw that I was just like I want to be like him.
JW: That’s awesome. I’m from New York, so I definitely agree that Jeter made for an ideal role model throughout his legendary career.
This year’s MLB Draft is set to be just 5 rounds. The Rays found a gem selecting you in the 23rd round of the 2018 Draft. What do you remember about your draft experience?
DW: My draft experience was hectic. I had a couple teams talking to my agent about different rounds and stuff like that. It just felt like those 3 days felt like weeks.
JW: I could only imagine. Do you have any advice for current draft hopefuls that may find themselves in a similar situation next month?
DW: My advice to them is it doesn’t matter where you go in the Draft, you have to realize that there are a lot of kids that would kill to be in your position. BE GRATEFUL.
JW: That’s great advice. You spent the 2019 season with the Hudson Valley Renegades. I went to college in the area and have always enjoyed it there, but as a California native what was your favorite part about playing in the Hudson Valley?
DW: My favorite part was the fans. They were so supportive of us and basically sold out every home series. It was just a big change of scenery coming from the Gulf Coast League.
JW: Definitely an enthusiastic fan base and you gave them a lot to cheer for. You dominated the New York-Penn league, with an incredible 0.95 ERA and .208 BAA across almost 50 innings (47.1 IP). Your velocity is ticking up and the 60.6% ground ball rate would have been Top 10 for MLB pitchers min. 40 IP last season.
What are some of the things in your development process that you would attribute to this success?
DW: Just paying more attention to the little things you do before you get to the field, all the things you do that fans can’t see. And knowing the type of pitcher that I am. I’m not going to be a flame thrower and a big strikeout guy, well not yet, so I had to pound the bottom of the zone to make batters swing at the pitches I wanted them to swing at, not pitches they wanted to swing at.
JW: For sure. You also did a great job controlling the strike zone last year, walking only 5.6% of opposing hitters. Your arsenal flashes three potential above average pitches (fastball, slider, splitter) with a lot of movement, but the splitter really stands out as a truly dominant offering. It’s one of the more uncommon pitches thrown in the majors today in terms of usage, so how did you learn how to master that pitch?
DW: I went through like 4 different changeup grips and I was talking to my boy Taj Bradley and he showed me how he threw his, and I just worked on it and started to trust it. It started to move different ways I didn’t know a ball could move lol.
JW: That’s really cool. Taj has been very impressive too and has great stuff, so it’s definitely exciting that you’re both working together to help each other make adjustments.
DW: Taj is going to be the real deal.
JW: I’m sure Rays fans are going to love to hear that. The best farm system in baseball just keeps getting better and better.
DW: And we love our fans. Goal is to bring a championship to Tampa.
JW: Do you have any favorite pre/post game meals or rituals?
DW: One ritual is that I have to FaceTime my mom LOL no matter what.
JW: Amazing. Family is really important to me too, and I’m sure that helps you get into the right mindset before any game.
DW: Yep and that’s who you do it for, because if you make it to the bigs it won’t just change your life, it will change the lives of everyone you love.
JW: Motivation is everything, and having that support system in your life can make all the difference.
You faced 2019 No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman in his New York-Penn league debut, inducing a shallow pop out. Not many hitters had success against you last season, but was there any batter you faced that left an impression based on their approach or overall at-bat?
DW: Mmm the Orioles, I think he was their 3rd or 4rd pick. He really gave me a run for my money. Think he went 4-4 with a couple doubles and couple singles, by far the best hitter I’ve ever faced so far in my career. Believe he’s from New Mexico State.
JW: Yes, that would be Joseph Ortiz, the Orioles 4th round pick in last year’s draft.
DW: Yeah he is really good.
JW: Interesting to note though, you were so dominant last season that it was the only one of your appearances where you gave up more than one earned run. You broke out in a big way last year and it seemed to me that this upcoming season was going to be the year that vaulted you onto top prospect lists with a repeat performance.
On the verge of a shortened or even cancelled 2020 Minor League Baseball season, what are you doing to keep yourself prepared for when baseball does come back?
DW: I’m doing a lot of running and a lot of body weight workouts. I’ve built a plyo wall like a lot of other people do and we are being sent a throwing program every week, so I’ve been trying to follow that as much as I can.
JW: Sounds like you are definitely doing what you can to make the most of this current situation. Hopefully we get to see you back on the bump very soon.
DW: I hope I get back on the bump soon too.
JW: As I mentioned before, it would be no surprise to see you shoot up prospect rankings as you continue to develop on your current trajectory. What’s one thing you’d like baseball, and particularly Rays’ fans to know about Daiveyon Whittle, as you pursue your dreams of becoming a major league pitcher?
DW: That I’m going to keep working. I’ll never stop working to make my way to the bigs and eventually bring a championship to Tampa.
JW: Hard work pays off. As Derek Jeter once said, “There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” You have an exciting combination of talent and drive, and I sincerely look forward to following your journey.