Name: Kevin Whelan
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: January 8, 1984
After two up and down years with the Yankees in 2007 and 2008, Whelan had a stellar 2009 campaign, going a combined 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA, 85 strikeouts in a little more than 67 innings, and holding opposing batters to a .192 average between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.
"I thought the year actually went pretty good," Whelan said. "I was healthy, that was probably the biggest key. Other than that I felt that I finally got back to myself.
"I thought I ironed out a few things and I think the biggest thing was staying healthy. I learned quite a bit this year."
An injury to his flexor tendon in his right forearm during his stint in the Arizona Fall League prior to his 2008 season rendered him less than 100 percent a year ago and he believes that was perhaps the biggest culprit in his sub-par performance that year.
"I got to work with Scotty Aldred, Nardi [Contreras] of course, and Tommy Phelps, and I think we got me feeling comfortable again this year," he said.
"That was kind of tough coming back from injury. I think it was a big year in terms of feeling like myself again and getting back to where I was before the injury."
Going back to his shorter arm action helped regain his comfort level some, but he still wound up walking 41 batters over two minor league levels.
"The walk totals were obviously high in Scranton but I had two outings where I had seven of those walks," he said. "I hadn't done that all year. I just kind of got out of a little rhythm and I had back-to-back outings where I had seven total walks and that killed me."
Actually nine of his thirteen Triple-A walks came in three of his outings, meaning he walked just four batters in his other eleven outings. Considering he had walked 29 batters in 38 innings in 2008, he did make some progress with his control.
"Tommy Phelps did a nice job in helping Kevin with his control," Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said. "His stuff, velo, pitches, and control were much better than the year before.
"He has three Major League pitches in the power fastball, slider and the split. Kevin has improved but he still needs to do a better job harnessing all three pitches. When that happens he will have great success."
And there remains the biggest obstacle for a pitcher with some of the nastiest stuff in the farm system. Despite boasting three legitimate plus big league pitches and 337 strikeouts in 267 innings over his career, his lack of command failed to get him a 40-man roster designation for the second consecutive year.
"Obviously I was disappointed," Whelan admitted. "I thought I had a good shot at it. I talked to my agent about and he talked to the Yankees about it, and it's just one of those things that happen and that I can't control.
"I'm not really going to let that affect me. Obviously you want to be protected, but if I go out there and do what I need to do then I'll have an opportunity."
With 22 strikeouts in a little more than 12 innings at the Triple-A level, Whelan knows what he needs to do to get to the big leagues, and more importantly, to have success there.
"I think obviously the biggest thing is strike one," he opined. "I don't think there's any question that if I go up there and attack the hitters and throw strikes, I think the pitches are there and the stuff's there.
"I think the biggest thing for me is attacking the hitters, staying within myself, and not trying to overthrow."
Repertoire. Fastball, Splitter, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball. Whelan once sat in the 93-95 MPH range when he was in the Detroit Tigers organization, but he had not matched that velocity level through his first two years with the Yankees and his flexor tendon injury had a lot to do with that. Finally healthy in 2009, he once again sat in the mid-90's with his fastball and topped out at 97 MPH. While he gets good late-life with his heater and deceptive motion with his shorter arm action, he does not have great command of his fastball.
Other Pitches. Being able to throw as hard as he does allows him to get a lot of strikeouts, but it's his plus splitter that makes him a prolific strikeout pitcher overall. He has impeccable command of it and with hitters looking for his power fastball, he often times has them way out in front with his splitter. Whelan has worked tirelessly on improving his slider since coming over to the Yankees, and like his fastball, it's a pure power pitch that he doesn't command well enough consistently. He rounds out his repertoire with a developing changeup that he seldom throws. It's in his back pocket if he needs it though.
Pitching. Whelan has a hard time consistently getting ahead in the count and pitching behind, even with his plus stuff, gets him into trouble. He can pile up strikeouts in hurry though when he does get ahead in the count because he has three put-away pitches, especially with his splitter. He has made progress with his control, however, and that can't be overlooked. He walked more than one batter per outing in just 11 of his 43 appearances in 2009 after having multiple walks in eight of his 24 appearances in 2008. A workout junkie, he is well-built and athletic on the mound, and he fields his position well.
Projection. Whelan has plus stuff across the board and the kind of bulldog mentality to be an impact late-inning reliever as a possible setup man or potential closer at the big league level, but he'll only be as good as his control. He is slowly but surely getting better in that department, but until that time he compares best to a Scott Proctor type physically and perhaps stuff-wise and control-wise he compares better to a Kyle Farnsworth type. Like Farnsworth, Whelan's stuff is unbelievable but his lack of control can be maddening.
ETA. 2010. For two straight offseasons Whelan has not only not been protected by the Yankeees on the 40-man roster, but he also went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft again. With his kind of stuff, that shouldn't happen. If he can continue to improve his control and throw more strikes, Whelan, who should open up in Triple-A Scranton in 2010, could see his first big league action.