In 2012, we saw Gavin Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki hog the spotlight as the first round picks and the most promising new members of the Mets minor league system. Behind them followed many new and talented players that came into the fold of the orange and blue. I was so excited as a fan last year, that I actually added as many players as I could to my personal twitter to see who would sign. One of the first players to sign after the draft ended was Robert Whalen, our 12th round pick out of Haines City High School in Haines City, Florida.
Whalen’s part in the draft didn’t stop there. Instead of just taking his money and reporting to camp, he decided to take it upon himself to encourage fellow 2012 Mets Draftees to sign with the team via Twitter. That really stuck out for me and earned him my “Favorite Player of the 2012 Draft Award” for his character, encouragement and one other thing… I was very intrigued by why a draftee would go on a quest to get other players he hardly knew to join the Mets, so I decided to ask him. It turns out that Robert Whalen is a die-hard Mets fan, and has been for as long as he can remember.
Well upon learning that the Mets had drafted a fellow Mets fan, I knew that I needed to reach out to him and get to know him a little better. So I conducted a short interview with him and I’m quite pleased to get to know Robert Whalen, and also to share his character and enthusiasm with MMO.
Ok, first question. So I heard you grew up as a Mets fan, how did that come to be as a Florida native?
Definitely been a big time Mets fan my entire life, my mom and dad were born and raised in Queens. Dad was from Flushing and my mom was from Woodside. My two older sisters were born in NY as well, but we lived in Stroudsburg, PA so I was born in Pennsylvania. I moved to Florida after 8th grade so I could play High School ball down in Florida to have a better opportunity to get drafted or go to a Division 1 College. Up North, there aren’t many scouts looking, so Florida was the place to be. My father took an early retirement from working at UPS in Manhattan, and my mom quit her job. My sisters were old enough to stay up North, so me and my parents just packed up and moved to Florida. Mainly just for baseball and of course the better weather!
Describe the day you got drafted. You must have been ecstatic to be drafted by your favorite team!
Draft day was bittersweet for me to be honest. I had such high expectations going into my senior season and my first 3-5 starts were phenomenal. Was really pitching well with a hard fastball that touched 95 once or twice: hardest I’ve ever thrown. Then I just had a long streak of a dead arm period. It was something I’ve never experienced before and I just never had the same velocity the rest of my season. Scouts backed off and my stock continued to drop. Almost all 30 teams were still in contact with me and had positive things to say, but on draft day when the 10th round came and my name still wasn’t called I was miserable. I really thought I wasn’t going to get drafted. All I wanted to do was play pro ball. Didn’t want to go to school, and I didn’t have a big asking number. Just wanted to play. So when the 12th round came and I had about eight teams call all offering the same and their picks were coming up. I really got to choose which team to play for and there was no way I was turning down the Mets!
Of course not. Now, for the fans, please can you give us an idea on what you throw?
Unfortunately this past summer I was shut down and wasn’t allowed to throw in games or anything like that so a lot of people, fans included, don’t really know me as player. The best way I can describe myself is how my old coaches and teammates have described me over the years. For one, I had always tried to mold my game after Roger Clemens, we have the same body type and mechanics and I just loved his intensity on the mound and how he never feared a hitter. I’m the same way, I go out there with that bulldog mentality that I’m going to challenge every hitter that steps in the box. I throw a fastball that ranges from 88 to 94 miles per hour. A hard 12-6 curveball that’s been an out-pitch for me, but one I can also throw for strikes. A slider that I’ve developed the past couple of years that I actually got my first professional strikeout with in Kingsport last summer. Also I’m working on developing a changeup that could be a key pitch for me if I can stay consistent with it down in the zone.
That was your only appearance last year. How did it feel stepping onto the mound in your first minor league game?
Yeah, my one inning for the year! It was awesome, got to make my debut with my buddy Brandon Welch who was also doing the same program as me up in Brooklyn. It was in Bluefield, West Virginia – the COMPLETE opposite of Brooklyn! I went from a stadium being sold out every night to having about a dozen fans in the stands, so that serious adrenaline wasn’t really there believe it or not. I was still very pumped though. It was my first time in a game in months and I remember talking to Tomas Nido, a good friend of mine, about how the batters looked like they were a mile away. But it was an awesome experience, something I will definitely never forget.
It must have been easier since Nido has caught you before right?
Tomas was a teammate of mine for the previous two years before the draft for our travel ball team, FTB Mizuno. So when I got drafted by the Mets it was awesome knowing that I was going to have a guy there who I knew and was actually one of my battery-mates for the past two years. He didn’t catch me in Kingsport but I’m sure him and me will be paired up again many times in the future.
How long were you in Brooklyn? Did you like the atmosphere? It’s pretty different than other baseball stadiums in terms of interaction.
I was in Brooklyn the entire summer up to August 25th. That was actually the day Welch and I were supposed to make our debuts at home versus the Staten Island Yankees. But they decided to send us to Kingsport for a less pressure atmosphere for our debut, which I can appreciate, and respect. I loved every minute in Brooklyn. I wish I could have been out there playing, but it wasn’t my time. The fans were incredible, always had our backs even when we struggled and sometimes traveled to our away games. But for me, being in Brooklyn felt like home. It’s an amazing place to play, almost feels like the big leagues the way the stadium would sell out and how the fans all got into the games. Without those die-hard Cyclones fans it would just be another minor league stadium. Those fans make it fun to play there.
Is there anything you feel you need to improve?
Of course, you can never stop improving and getting better, for me I’ve really been working hard this offseason on getting in much better shape physically and strengthening my arm. I’m doing whatever I can to make sure I don’t go through that dead arm phase I went through my senior year. Also, like I mentioned before I’m working hard on developing my changeup. Like all young pitchers, command is always the make-or-break thing for guys and I’ve always felt like I’ve had decent command for my age, but command is a given. Something I work on the most and not just my fastball but with all my pitches, is being able to throw whatever I want, whenever I want!
Awesome. You are reporting to extended spring training, where do you think you will end up playing this year?
I’ll have a better idea once I get to camp and have a chance to talk the coordinators and all the guys that make those decisions. I would love to go to Brooklyn, it was eating at me last summer that I couldn’t go out and pitch in front of that crowd, so my goal heading into camp is to just really show what I’m capable of and make it really hard for them not to send me to an advanced league like Brooklyn which features mainly college level players.
I hope so man, I want to see you play personally. Okay, last question. Who is your favorite Met?
It would be awesome man I appreciate that. Man, my favorite Met growing up was always Mike Piazza. I actually just started reading his book, but Piazza was the man and every time I would go to Shea and watch a game all I wanted to see was Mike Piazza hit a bomb. I tried to emulate everything he did, his batting stance and the way he caught since I was a catcher when I was younger. Now it’s David Wright, I have a ton of respect for the guy, just the way he handles himself on and off the field is what I admire most and a path I try to follow. He sets a great example for us younger players and now that he’s locked up with us I’m looking forward to possibly having him play third base behind me one day.
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I thank Robert Whalen for giving me the opportunity to interview him and I wish him so much luck going forward. I want to see him achieve his dream and stand on the mound in front of us at Citi Field. Robert reports to extended spring training on April 13th, and will play there until he earns his assignment to a short-season league. You can follow him on twitter at @RobWhalen38.