Aug 19, 2010 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
How fast is Syracuse Chiefs outfielder Boomer Whiting?
He plunks down a bunt and races to first before the pitcher has time to pick up the ball.
When he’s on first with second open, he’s off to swipe that keystone sack before you can blink an eye. And then his attention turns to third.
How fast is Boomer Whiting? On Aug. 6 in Rochester, he reached first on a single to left, stole second, took third when he forced an overthrow, and then he stole home!
How fast is Boomer Whiting? Since being promoted to Syracuse from Advanced Single-A pro ball at Potomac on May 31, the 26-year-old outfielder has swiped 31 bases to contend for the top spot among this season’s International League stolen-base leaders.
Though he’s a devoted Christian with a positive attitude and an easy smile, Whiting invariably uses violent terms to describe his baseball calling. He talks about wreaking “havoc” on the basepaths, “exploding” off his lead and “exploding” again when he slides into the bag.
An effective bunter, Boomer brushes off taunts from opposing pitchers who want him to take a full swing.
“I’m always looking to disrupt the pitcher,” he said. “I know I have the ability to get the ball on the ground [by bunting], and the pitchers, they don’t like to field their position.” That can be a real advantage for a 5-foot-10,170-pound player like Whiting who won’t generally blast the ball out of the park. Instead, he uses his foot speed to get around the bases.
He models himself after his childhood hero, Kenny Lofton, the happy-go-lucky Cleveland Indians outfielder who stole more bases than anyone else in the American League from 1992 to ’96 and often beat out bunts for singles.
In Whiting’s first game with the Chiefs on May 31 in Buffalo, he singled in each of his first three at-bats, and two of those hits were bunts.
“God blessed me with fast-twitch muscles,” he said. “So I understand my abilities. I understand my role on the ball club.”
So does manager Trent Jewett, a former catcher who knows how a speed demon like Whiting can drive the defense to distraction. Whiting played for Jewett in 2009 at Potomac. Toward the end of the season Jewett and hitting coach “Governor” Jerry Browne — who’s also now at Syracuse — convinced the right-handed Whiting to become a switch-hitter. It’s a move that should help him push open the door to the big leagues.
“When you bat left-handed, you’re a step closer to first base,” Whiting said. “That’s a big advantage for someone with my speed. I wish I’d done it five years ago.” Swinging as a lefty has allowed him to turn a lot of ground balls into hits this year. So far he’s batting .319 right-handed and .239 left-handed — .264 overall — not bad for his first season swinging from both sides.
While his switch-hitting success may be a sweet surprise, Jewett’s not a bit surprised by the rookie’s Triple-A achievements.
“His speed impacts the baseball game,” Jewett said. “He has a passion for stealing bases. That’s the key. It’s a lost art You have to seize an opportunity whenever there is one.”
Whiting returns the compliment. “Trent’s the perfect manager for a player like myself,” he said. “He knew what I was capable of when I got here, and he loves the speed game so our styles of play mesh perfectly.”
The crafty manager and the eager rookie each study opposing pitchers, always looking for an edge to get Whiting into scoring position. Their teamwork has paid off handsomely. Twice Whiting has stolen home — one of baseball’s rarest and most exciting plays — July 24 against the Durham Bulls in North Carolina and Aug. 6 in Rochester.
Whiting buoys his team in many different ways.
He contributes with his glove: On June 22 in the third inning with the bases loaded, left fielder Whiting caught a blast by Charlotte Knight Stefan Gartrell. Whiting crashed into the wall in left center at Alliance Bank Stadium but hung on to the ball. After 68 games, he has yet to make an error.
He contributes with his bat: On July 2 in Allentown he jump-started the Chiefs’ offense in the first with a leadoff single and two stolen bases. He also scored a run.
He also contributes with his eye and his patience: Whiting has drawn a team-high 45 walks.
But most of all he contributes with his legs. He’ll routinely take extra bases, transforming singles into doubles — he has 10 — and doubles into triples — he has two.
Cutting back Ks
If he’s got an Achilles’ heel, it’s his tendency to strike out. Whiting has whiffed 67 times in 294 plate appearances. The more he makes contact, the higher his batting will climb, so to ascend to the next level he’ll have to cut back on his Ks.
As a member of the 2007 University of Louisville Cardinals, Whiting briefly tasted national attention playing in the College World Series at Omaha.
Now, his sights are set on the major leagues, and he thinks he’s got a decent shot with the Nationals. Why not? He was personally recruited by Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ director of baseball operations.
“He has a chance to be a base stealer,” Rizzo said. “Some guys who have long strides, it takes a long time for them to get to top speed, but not him. I thought there was a place for him on our ball club.”
Whiting thinks his talents fit the tenor of the times.
“Washington is focused on developing players in its minor-league system” he observed. “And , now that the steroids are out of the picture, baseball is going back to the speed game rather than the power game.”
And speed is Boomer’s specialty.
Chiefs host Yankees
The Syracuse Chiefs host IL North Division leader, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, at Alliance Bank Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 22. Fireworks will light up the North Side sky after Friday’s game.
The Buffalo Bisons stampede into ABS at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 26-27.
ABS is located on Tex Simone Drive (First North Street), just east of the Regional Market. Tickets cost $11 for field-level seats, $8 for kids and seniors; $8 for second-tier seats, $4 for kids and seniors; and parking costs $4 per vehicle; 474-7833; syracusechiefs.com.