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"I actually found out the day before the wedding," Kevin Whelan told PinstripesPlus.com after just getting back from his honeymoon, "an hour or so before they announced the trade. I was actually really shocked. I wasn't expecting it, of course I had so much going on with the wedding. I wasn't expecting it by any means."
"The Tigers called me and kind of filled me in with what was going on and I really didn't know what to think at that time. I didn't have time to sit down and think about it. I was taken off-guard. Once it settled in and I thought about it, I'm excited about it. It will be something to look forward to."
Partly helping create the craziness of the day, and partly helping him mentally ease into the realization of being with another organization, Whelan says the guests at his wedding made the trade seem real.
"It kind of hit me the day they told me," he said. "Everybody was coming into town that I knew. Everyone came up to me and started talking to me about it. So that's when it kind of hit me and I was like, 'I'm with the Yankees now'. It was kind of an awkward situation. I talked to my agent, he came to the wedding. So we're very excited about it."
The fact that he was traded, a life-changing event in itself, didn't really come as a shock. It just happened to be the odd timing of how it all came down for Kevin Whelan.
"Obviously in this game you can be traded at any time," Whelan realized. "A guy I lived with this year was traded in the middle of a double-header, so I knew it could happen. I wasn't expecting [to be traded to] the Yankees. You never really think about a trade until it actually occurs though. You really don't expect it ever. In the big leagues, when you're in an arbitration year or a free-agent year, I guess you kind of expect it more than when you're in the minor leagues."
What Whelan has been able to do in the minor leagues has been awfully impressive thus far. After notching a combined 15 saves in two minor league stops in his professional debut in 2005, including posting a perfect 0.00 ERA in 14 appearances in the Midwest League, he earned Florida State League All-Star honors this past season after going 4-1 with 27 saves and a 2.67 ERA with the Lakeland Tigers.
"I think it went real well," the 22-year old said of his 2006 season. "Obviously I started off real well and then I went through a period where I struggled a little bit. I injured my leg a little bit but I don't know how much that had to do with it. After that, the whole second-half of the season I threw real well."
"I was supposed to go to the [Arizona] Fall League but I couldn't because of the wedding," he continued. "So I went to Instructs instead and I felt like I made some real big strides in Instructs. I felt great. I feel like every time I go out there that I have the chance to get better."
"Obviously I haven't been pitching as long as most of the guys, but I felt like I got better and you can always get even better. I was pleased with the year I had though."
A catcher with Texas A&M University his freshman year of college, Whelan volunteered to pitch in the Jayhawk League later that summer and when he threw fastballs in the 96-98 MPH range, people sat up and took notice.
But an injury to one of the Aggies' catchers in his sophomore year prevented him from moving to the mound full-time. And after leading the Cape Cod League in saves the summer after his sophomore year, Texas A&M couldn't hold him back any longer.
"Really my pitching career took off my sophomore summer when I went to the Cape Cod League and led the Cape in saves," Whelan revealed. "My junior year is really the only year where I just pitched and so I've been pitching since then."
Drafted in the 4th round of the 2005 MLB Draft, Whelan has quickly earned the reputation as one of the top relief pitching prospects with a blazing fastball that comfortably sits 93-95 MPH and tops out around 97 MPH. He compliments his repertoire with a hard split-finger fastball, a true forkball, and a developing slider.
"My slider is a pitch that I've become a lot more comfortable with," said Whelan. "I didn't throw it in college. Really that's probably the biggest stride I made this past year, learning to pitch with my slider and being able to throw every pitch for strikes."
Including his limited time pitching in college, Kevin Whelan has averaged nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings in his entire career. Considering he has been pitching for essentially just two years, the Yankees may have landed themselves a very special pitching prospect.
"I feel like I can go to any of my pitches for an out-pitch," he said of his stuff. "If you trust your stuff, and throw strikes, I think you'll be able to get outs. I love throwing my fastball but I love burying my forkball to right-handers as an out-pitch."
"Once you get comfortable with any pitch and throwing it in any location, I think that will help in anybody's career, just knowing I can throw this pitch and I'm going to put it where I want it and this guy [the batter] is going to get out on it. Mainly I like throwing my fastball and my forkball, but I've gotten really comfortable with my slider."
Piling up the strikeout totals and limiting opposing batters to a combined .147 batting average in his career have been fun for Whelan. But what he likes more than anything is closing out games!
"I like watching all closers pitch because that's what I see myself as, a closer," he admitted. "I'm more of a power pitcher. I just like to go out there and go right at hitters. Every closer has to go out there with the attitude that they're going to go out there, throw their stuff, and beat whoever they face."
"You have to go out there and be on your game everyday. If you're not throwing well, you don't have a few innings. That's really what I try and do, is go after hitters, throw strikes, and if they hit my best stuff, then you have to go out there the next day and do it."
Now part of the Yankee organization, Whelan is now even more excited about the opportunity to learn from the best.
"I see myself as a closer. I love being in that situation and in that role. As soon as I got traded I was sitting there thinking, 'wow, the Yankees have Mariano Rivera'. I would just love to sit down with that guy to talk to him and just learn from him. There's nobody else in the big leagues I'd rather learn from than him. He's so successful. He's one of the best closers in the game. It'll be a lot of fun. Hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to him and learn from him."
Part of being traded to a new organization is learning not only who you'll be playing with in the coming years, but finding out who you'll be competing against for certain spots. Whelan says he's not concerning himself with his competition.
"I know some of the guys in the organization," said the right-hander. "I played with a few of them. You can't really think about who else there is. You just have to go out and do what you do. I'm not really worried about who else is in the organization. I'll get to meet them in Spring Training. It'll be fun to meet new guys, learn to play with new guys, and just see what the organization is about."
One of Whelan's friends growing up and former college rival is J. Brent Cox. While Whelan was closing out games for Texas A&M, Cox was closing out games for the University of Texas.
"I talked to J. Brent Cox right after the trade and he said 'the Yankees treat you good'. He played for [The University of] Texas so we were big rivals in college. I played with him in high school."
"That was a huge win for the Aggies," Whelan chuckled after Texas A&M beat #11 Texas 12-7 on Friday. "I've got to call him a little bit later and rub it in his face."
Whelan heard from Brian Cashman the day of the trade, but because of his impending nuptials the following day and now just getting back from his honeymoon, the two parties have yet to discuss anything formal in regards to a reporting date or if he'll be invited to big league Spring Training.
Whether he's invited to big league Spring Training or not, Kevin Whelan says he'll prepare the same way and he has the same set of goals, regardless of where he begins the 2007 season.
"I feel it's just progressing everyday," he said of what he needs to do to get to the next level, "just fine-tuning stuff. Instead of throwing a pitch for a strike eight out of ten times, being able to do it nine out of ten times, or even ten out of ten times, or missing a spot twice in an outing, don't miss a spot in the next outing, that's the stuff I want to work on."
"Learning little things each time I go out there, trusting my stuff more, and getting more experience, stuff like that," he concluded.
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