Rays Won’t Rush Whitley

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla.—First-round center fielder Garrett Whitley—the 13th overall pick last June—didn’t show the Rays much on the field in his pro debut.

The Niskayuna (N.Y.) High product hit a combined .174 with three homers in 42 games for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club and short-season Hudson Valley.

But that didn’t mean the Rays didn’t like what they saw. They just know that coming from New York, the 18-year-old Whitley needs to play more.

“He’s a mature young man for a high school player,” farm director Mitch Lukevics said. “Most of the time with our high school players, that’s the biggest challenge. They’re away from home for the first time, and they’re not as physically developed as out college players, like a Richie Shaffer or a Mikie Mahtook would come in.

“(Whitley is) physically developed and he’s mentally developed. But at the same time, you still have to have patience.”

Whitley is well aware of the questions and even skepticism about players from Northern climates, and he usually points to Mike Trout as an example that can end the discussion.

“(Whitley) being a cold-weather climate player, you don’t get to play a lot of games,” Lukevics said. “Now that he’s come from that environment to our environment, he’s getting acclimated to professional baseball.

“Now he has to catch up baseball-wise. That’s a tough task. That’s not that easy. You don’t just fall out of bed and hit 40 home runs. That’s his challenge. And we have to have great patience with a young man who is on top of his game physically and mentally.’’

The Rays, Lukevics said, are obviously confident he can. What stood out from Whitley’s debut season, he said, was his bat speed and physical strength.

“He’s stronger than most, and mentally he’s more there than most high school kids,’’ Lukevics said. “He’s just not from the South where you play a lot.”


• The Rays signed righthanded reliever Adam Reifer to a minor league deal with a camp invite. He spent 2015 in the Mexican League.

• With Charlie Haeger on staff as a pitching coordinator, the Rays signed a second knuckleballer to a minor league contract. Jeff Howell is a 33-year-old converted catcher.

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