Here’s what Chris Sale said to Red Sox rookie Garrett Whitlock
Garrett Whitlock was one of the best surprises of the 2021 season for the Boston Red Sox. He became one of the rare success stories to emerge from the Rule 5 draft, a victory made sweeter by the fact that he was plucked from the New York Yankees farm system.
Whitlock dominated throughout his first season in the big leagues, posting a 1.96 ERA, 1.105 WHIP, and 9.9 K/9 in 46 innings of relief. He proved capable of handling a multi-inning role out of the bullpen but eventually earned his way into high-leverage situations late in games. The right-hander even notched a pair of rouge saves and there are whispers that he might ascend to the closer role next season – unless he ends up in the rotation.
While his performance on the mound was drawing praise as early as spring training, Whitlock’s ability to soak up information was arguably the best trait he displayed upon joining the Red Sox organization.
During an appearance on WEEI’s Live BP podcast, Whitlock discussed his experience from last year’s training camp and how he learned from the veteran pitchers on the staff. One piece of advice that stuck with him came from Chris Sale.
"“You’ve got to listen to people who have been there and stayed there. Sale told me at the beginning once I made the team, he said, ‘Hey, congratulations. Anyone can make the team. That’s the easy part. Now you have to stay here. That’s the hard part,'” said Whitlock."
Breaking camp with the major league team was a memorable moment for the rookie but that was only the first step of his challenge. As a Rule 5 draft pick, Whitlock would have been offered back to the Yankees if he didn’t remain on Boston’s major league roster for the entire season. If he had struggled out of the gate, the Red Sox would have faced a difficult decision – let him take his lumps while learning at the team’s expense or risk losing his tantalizing upside.
Whitlock made the decision easy with an outstanding rookie season during which his status on the roster was never in question.
Whitlock revealed another nugget of advice from Sale that helped him settle in for his first spring appearance since returning from Tommy John surgery.
"“Coming back from Tommy John, in spring training, Sale told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to suck. Just go out there and enjoy the moment,'” he said."
The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 minor league season but Whitlock was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery during that year anyway. Heading into spring training last year, his last appearance on the mound was for the Yankees Double-A affiliate in 2019. Uncertainty regarding his progress as he worked his way back from injury was a factor in the Yankees making the crucial mistake of leaving Whitlock unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.
Sale is well aware of the challenges a pitcher faces when returning from this surgery. His season debut was delayed until August as he completed his recovery from the same procedure. Despite that he wasn’t able to contribute on the mound for the majority of the season, Sale’s veteran presence proved to be a valuable resource to the Red Sox.
Whitlock’s reflection on last season is refreshingly humble. While he recognizes his own success, he also realizes that there are other pitchers on this team who have thrived at this level for much longer than he has. He’s eager to listen to their advice and soak up as much information as he can.
It’s unclear what Whitlock’s role will be entering 2022. He’s earned the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot but he’s arguably more valuable to this Red Sox team in a late-inning bullpen role. Regardless of how the team utilizes him, Whitlock’s desire to keep learning from the veterans around him will allow him to thrive in any role he’s assigned to.