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Karsten Whitson Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 31

Karsten Whitson Florida Getty
(Getty Images)

“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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At 18 years old, Karsten Whitson was given a choice that many who haven’t walked through his shoes would consider a no-brainer.

After the right-hander was taken No. 9 overall by the Padres in the 2010 draft out of Chipley (FL) High School, the organization offered him upwards of $2 million to begin his professional career, likely heading to either short-season Eugene or Low-A Fort Wayne.

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Except it hadn’t been Whitson's childhood dream to become a Fort Wayne Tin Cap, or even a Padre. He’d grown up wanting to pitch in a different jersey, to reach a different goal.

“I had a childhood dream to go pitch for Florida, to go pitch in the College World Series,” said Whitson. “There were times where I wish I didn’t have that decision to make, but ultimately it was one I had to make.”

For Whitson, accepting that signing bonus from San Diego meant giving up that lifelong dream of heading to Gainesville. Negotiations between Whitson and the Padres went down nearly to the deadline, and that entire summer Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan had to play a waiting game on if his top recruit might actually make it to campus.

“I remember having a conversation with Sully right after the draft,” said Whitson. “(I said) ‘don’t be surprised if I end up in Gainesville here in a couple months.’”

Whitson eventually decided in favor of enrolling at Florida, turning down the lucrative bonus and opportunity to begin a professional career. He had the support of his family, but faced plenty of criticism and second-guessing regarding his decision to turn down “life-changing” money.

The decision also carried lofty expectations when it came to his time with the Gators—he was the highest drafted player from the 2010 draft to make it to campus, but was entering the fray with an already-loaded Florida squad coming off of a run to Omaha.

“I didn’t really want to talk or hear about the first round stuff—I just wanted to be another guy that earned everything,” said Whitson.

Like most freshman, Whitson took his lumps during his first fall, but by spring 2011 he’d secured a role as the Gators’ Sunday starter. He went from “former first-round pick” to being named a Freshman All-American by Baseball America and pitching Florida to a return trip to Omaha. He’d finish the year by starting two games in the 2011 College World Series, fulfilling his childhood dream and making good on his decision to head to college.

For as much promise as Whitson’s first season had shown, the rest of his college tenure was much more uneven. During his sophomore year he began to have arm trouble, and pitched through pain during yet another Florida trip to Omaha—a decision that he retrospectively thinks might’ve not been the wisest.

Whitson missed his entire junior year—the year he was once again eligible for the draft—with shoulder surgery, and by the time he returned to the mound as a fourth-year junior in 2014 he had gone from potential 1st overall pick to a pitcher struggling to contribute to the pitching staff.

His final year at Florida was a struggle. Whitson wasn’t the same pitcher who’d gone ninth overall—the shoulder injury had necessitated reinventing himself on the mound. That took time, and a team trying to make it to the College World Series doesn’t usually have time for a guy to figure things out during SEC ball.

Whitson spent much of the season far-removed from his previous role as a rotation mainstay, but the former first-rounder had one glimmer of promise left. In the championship game of the SEC tournament, Whitson took the ball out of necessity for a depleted Gators staff and fired six shutout innings against LSU.

Whitson signed with the Red Sox as an 11th-round pick in the 2014 draft, but arm troubles limited him to just four professional games. Far from regretful about his college decision, he instead took his experiences and enthusiasm for baseball into coaching. He’s currently an assistant at the University of South Florida, and dreams of getting back to the College World Series, this time as a coach.

On the latest episode of From Phenom to the Farm, we’re joined by former University of Florida All-American Karsten Whitson. He talks his difficult decision to sign or attend college, how to fit in with a loaded college team, and how good clubhouse chemistry is created in a college clubhouse.

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