Davie’s pro baseball players looking forward to ’24

Published 7:23 am Monday, October 16, 2023

By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

If you thought Jeremy Walker was going to fade into baseball oblivion after missing the 2020 and 2021 seasons with injuries, think again.

The 28-year-old reliever from Advance was lights out all year for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Allentown, Pa.), the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. The righthander went 6-2 with a 2.90 ERA. In two starts and 45 relief appearances, he worked 68.1 innings, allowed 54 hits and 22 earned runs, walked 31 and struck out 52.

Walker’s work yielded him the Lehigh Valley Pitcher of the Year award. The award is given by the organization and recognizes the accomplishments for an outstanding pitcher on the staff.

Walker was picked in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves. He made his major league debut on July 26, 2019 and recorded a scoreless inning against, ironically, the Phillies.

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Carson Whisenhunt, a southpaw pitcher from Advance, started his 2023 season in Low-A. After just four games, he was promoted to High-A. After six games, he was promoted to Double-A. He was on the verge of moving up to Triple-A when he suffered a left elbow sprain in late July.

Although the injury brought his season to a sudden halt, Whisenhunt received great news recently: He’s expected to be fully healthy by the start of Spring Training. The San Francisco Giants were initially worried their prize arm would need Tommy John surgery.

“It wasn’t a major concern, but it was definitely a relief once we got an answer about it,” Whisenhunt said Friday from Arizona. “It was more precautionary measures than anything. It was: ‘Hey, I felt this, let’s make sure everything is OK. We’re just going to shut him down.’ And I was fine with that, just to be on the safe side. I felt it during a bullpen. I had felt it a little bit before, but it was nothing crazy. Then the last bullpen that I threw was when I really felt it.”

Tommy John surgery would have shelved Whisenhunt for the entire 2024 season.

“I saw a couple different doctors to be sure and got a couple different answers,” he said. “But we talked it over and finally came to a conclusion of what it was, and it came out to be the sprain. So it was a lot better news than what we were expecting.”

The season couldn’t have gone much better for the second-round pick in 2022. He finished with a 2.45 ERA with 23 walks and 83 strikeouts in 58.2 innings. He also pitched one scoreless inning in the All-Star Futures Game in July.

“Obviously, it was a lot different (than rookie ball in 2022),” he said. “But I got a good feel for everything, learned a lot and I feel like everything that I did this year will be a big help going into next year.”

Whisenhunt will be home in a few weeks. Come 2024, there’s a chance he could push his way into the Giants’ rotation.

“When I’m done here in Arizona, I’ll be back home and I’ll work out,” he said. “I’ll be throwing, but I probably won’t throw a bullpen until January if I had to guess.”

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Whit Merrifield’s season for the Toronto Blue Jays lost some of its shine in the last month and a half of the season.

He had something special going for a good while. He was named to the American League All-Star Team for the third time. At midseason, he was hitting .286 with 84 hits, 17 doubles and 38 RBIs over 294 at-bats.

For more than a month after the break, he went on a tear, hitting .323 (45 for 139) from July 14-August 20. That 32-game stretch raised his average to .297.

Then came a downturn.

From Aug. 22-Oct. 1, the 34-year-old from Advance had 18 hits in 107 at-bats (.168). He did not start either game when the Jays lost in the wild-card round to Minnesota. He went 0 for 1 with a walk in a 3-1 loss in game one. He did not get any action in a 2-0 loss in game two. It was pretty disheartening.

“It was a bummer,” Merrifield said in a podcast. “Nobody wants to not play, especially in a playoff game. Selfishly, I thought I did enough throughout the year (to) warrant that chance to make a mark in the playoffs. At the end of the day, it’s not my call. The decision was made and it is what it is.”

Merrifield’s final numbers were hardly bad. He hit .272 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs.

His days as a Blue Jay, though, could be numbered. At the conclusion of the World Series, he could become a free agent if his $18 million mutual option is not picked up by Toronto. There’s speculation he could wind up with the Chicago White Sox, who are coming off a dreadful 61-101 season.

According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, new White Sox general manager Chris Getz is looking at Salvador Perez of Kansas City and Merrifield as possible offseason targets and has expressed interest in signing Merrifield “at length.” The White Sox have holes to fill at second base and right field.

Getz and manager Pedro Grifol, who formerly worked in the Royals’ organization, know Perez and Merrifield well. Merrifield spent the first six-plus years of his MLB career with Kansas City.