Florida redshirt junior Karsten Whitson was once surprise Florida enrollee Karsten Whitson, who spurned millions of dollars from the San Diego Padres to pitch for the Gators.
Four tumultuous years later, Whitson will be leaving Florida for the Boston Red Sox, and a second chance at the MLB career that he once seemed destined to have.
Whitson was taken by the Red Sox in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft on Saturday, coming off the board with the 344th overall selection and the penultimate pick of the round. MLB.com Red Sox beat writer Steve Petrella caught up with Whitson this Saturday and confirmed that Whitson will, in fact, pass up his final year of eligibility at Florida to become a Sox farmhand.
He'll forego the one year of eligibility he has remaining because of a medical redshirt and sign with the Red Sox in the coming weeks.
"The Red Sox saw something in me and they're giving me an opportunity to work hard for a team that's sticking their neck out for me," Whitson said by phone Saturday. "Some other teams are looking at negative of my situation. It humbles me that Boston sees positives in a kid that still has a lot to offer."
The negative(s?) about Whitson will be familiar to fans of Florida baseball. After a stellar freshman season in 2011 in which he compiled a 2.40 ERA and pitched in the College World Series, Whitson struggled as a sophomore in 2012, missing time with injuries and proving largely ineffective when healthy enough to throw. And then Whitson missed the entirety of the 2013 season thanks to another injury. He was taken in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals, but in the 37th round, and opted to return to Florida and try to rebuild his draft stock.
Whitson never quite regained the form of his freshman season as a redshirt junior in 2014, posting a 3.86 ERA in 37.1 innings of work and striking out just 21 batters against 23 walks. But he's still mostly the same player who was once the ninth player taken in the entire MLB Draft, just older, and he was superb in Florida's SEC Tournament final loss to LSU, throwing six scoreless innings and allowing just three hits against an LSU lineup with two draftees and multiple other future pros.
There's hope for Whitson as a professional, if he can continue to grow and develop on his long road back from injury — and, in fairness, that's a big if. Given all he sacrificed to be a Gator, and all the bad luck that's befallen him since, though, I'm sure hoping that Whitson can do that, and make a remarkable comeback.
And I bet I'm not alone among Gators in that regard.
We'll have a fuller recap of Florida players and signees taken in the 2014 MLB Draft on Monday. I just wanted to call this out, because Whitson deserves his own piece.