by Sam Blum
July 25, 2014
The decision that Adam Whitt was faced with was less of a choice and more of an opportunity.
During his tryout to become a walk-on for the Nevada baseball team, he dropped his arm angle for one pitch in a bullpen session.
The coach stopped him and asked him to do it again.
“‘If you’re gonna throw 84 miles an hour from up here,” then-Nevada manager Gary Powers told Whitt, “for you to have the best chance of making this team and going somewhere in this game, we’d like to try drop you down and see if you can learn how to throw a sidearm.’”
Just months before, Whitt didn’t have a future in baseball.
Having finished his senior season at Carson City (Nev.) High School, Whitt had resigned himself to a life that didn’t involve baseball.
As a tall, lanky high school graduate that could barely hit 83 miles per hour on the radar gun or fill out his baseball uniform, he lacked interest from college programs.
There wasn’t a single Division I, II or III offer to choose from.
“I hated that feeling,” Whitt said. “I hated knowing something that I love and what I want to do most was gonna be away from me.”
Whitt was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He had a baseball dream, but no interest from anyone to let him pursue it.
For the first part of that 2010 summer, Whitt didn’t pick up a ball.
That’s why, when given the chance to play baseball at Nevada, becoming a submarine pitcher provided Whitt with a sense of rejuvenation.
Two years later, he became the Wolfpack closer as a sophomore. Now, with Cotuit, he’s leading the Cape Cod Baseball League with a 1.19 earned run average. He was recently named to participate in the All-Star game on Sunday.
The right-hander went from a virtual uncertainty on his first day in a Cotuit uniform, to a player that makes MLB scouts stick around until the ninth in the hopes of seeing him pitch.
Powers calls him a “self-made guy.” His process to becoming professional prospect was one he paved himself, perfecting his submarine motion, and developing a changeup to compliment his moving fastball and breaking slider.
“You have to find your niche where you can get hitters out,” Cotuit manager Mike Roberts said. “He found he got hitters out better there, and gave him a better chance to pitch longer.”
When Whitt was a kid, his father would toss him batting practice in an unconventional way. He wanted to give his son a challenge.
So he delivered the ball sidearm. Whitt said that at the time it frustrated him.
“I think that was an exposure to it,” Greg Whitt said. “They’re harder to hit, harder to pick up. I think he learned something from that.”
But it took until his tryout at Nevada to realize that he could instill the same anger in opposing hitters.
Just one week before enrolling at Nevada, Whitt emailed Powers on a whim, asking to try and walk on.
They already had 20 pitchers trying out, Powers said. And to make sure Whitt knew his place, Powers told him he’d be No. 21.
During that tryout, Powers didn’t talk to him once, Whitt said. It left Whitt in constant fear of being the next to get cut.
But that all changed once Whitt found what he called his “natural arm angle.”
“If I never showed my coach that I could throw like this in the bullpen,” Whitt said, “I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
And while Nevada gave him a roster spot, they put it all on him to prove he’d earned it. Once he made the team, he got redshirted and was told to come back better and stronger.
And that’s what he did. He developed his pitching delivery and lifted weights constantly, putting on muscle and adding velocity to his pitches.
“I took it as, they’re giving me a year to get ahead of everybody else,” Whitt said. “…In order to get to the future, you have to be good in the present.”
Whitt said he hasn’t had a pitching coach that’s helped develop his submarine arm. They’ve helped him on the mental aspects of pitching, but he’s had to teach himself everything else.
He watched videos of Marlins closer Steve Cishek, both as a source of inspiration for a possible future, and as a means to improve his mechanics.
Like Cishek, Whitt opens with a wide stance. He brings his glove up behind, but level to his head as he gets set.
He pauses as he stares down the batter. Then he lowers his glove down. His hand escapes out from his glove, comes to a knee-high level and whips his body in a seamless motion.
“I want to one day sit in the low nineties,” Whitt said. “I’ve gotten to 92 (miles per hour), 93 a few different times, but I’m definitely not sitting there. (Cishek) is definitely somebody I want to model after.“
In the Cape League, Whitt has baffled hitters with his deceptive delivery and unique mechanics. But the reason that he came to Cotuit was to add yet another dimension to his arsenal.
Manager Mike Roberts has a propensity for teaching each of his pitchers how to throw an effective changeup.
The first time Whitt threw one in the Cotuit bullpen, it sailed over the catcher and fencing and all the way into the woods surrounding the field.
But he continued to develop the pitch. In the first exhibition game of the season, he threw the changeup exclusively.
He’ll throw 100-200 changeups in the outfield before every game, mimicking the release point on his tosses instead of on the pitchers mound.
“It just gives him something else for a hitter to look at,” Roberts said. “I think it’s really important, particularly as he goes to pro baseball, maybe even more so than now.“
Whitt said that before he developed the changeup, he was most effective against right handed batters, who had a hard time picking up his pitches with his low arm angle.
Now, he feels as though he’s just as dangerous to hitters on both sides of the plate.
“There’s always a knock that (submarine guys) can’t get lefties out,” Whitt said. “That’s one thing that I try to pride myself on, is that I can get anybody out.”
Getting people out in the Cape Cod League is a privilege that just a couple years ago Whitt hardly had a right to dream about.
When he looks around him, he sees a slew of players that had a future in baseball destined for them.
He takes pride in his forward-thinking attitude, but refuses to summer the summer three years ago when baseball was over for him. It’s his motivation. He’s unique in that way.
“He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t care what people think of him,” said reliever Luke Leftwich. “He’s the kind of guy that people can look at and really idolize.”
Now he knows there’s a future, a bigger picture that didn’t always seem possible. But he says that he’s going to stick with what’s worked for him. Setting, small, attainable goals until he reaches the ultimate one.
For now, he’s just happy playing baseball.
“It’s what I worked for, for so long,” Whitt said. “No one ever really gave me a chance or even thought I could do it.
“I was always an underdog.”