Dive into the life of an elite teenage baseball prospect, and you'd likely stumble across words like Division One offers, top club programs, and Perfect Game showcases. Perhaps you'd see their name at the top of recruiting websites, videos on Hudl, and maybe even a baseball card or two sprinkled in.
For Twins' prospect Aaron Whitefield? Not so much.
Born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, baseball wasn't a cornerstone in Whitefield's life the way it is for many boys who grow up to be pro ballplayers in the United States.
"Occasionally, I'd watch Yankees and Red Sox when they were on TV when I was younger, but before that, there was nothing, no baseball," Whitefield said.
In fact, Whitefield first picked up a baseball at age 17.
You read that right. Not seven, but 17.
Like many good parents, Whitefield's parents put him in various sports as a child to help him improve as an athlete and find his passion. The result was a young Aussie who played soccer, rugby, and fastpitch softball. The latter of those came as a byproduct of rugby injuries.
"I started playing softball when I was going through some rugby injuries at 13 or 14," Whitefield said. "That eventually helped the conversion to baseball, but at the time, I still hadn't touched a baseball."
That conversion took place when a Cincinnati Reds scout approached the 17-year-old Whitefield at a national fastpitch softball tournament.
"I was at a national fastpitch softball tournament, and a scout who was there told me that I should try playing baseball for a year," Whitefield recalled. "Then I met a guy from my hometown who had already signed to play baseball in the US named Connor MacDonald."
MacDonald and his family helped Aaron mold his softball skills to baseball, both on and off the field.
"(The MacDonald's) are a beautiful family. They helped me to where I am today," Whitefield said. "Connor's dad helped me with not only the physical side of baseball but the mental side as well."
In just a year after learning arguably one of the most complex sports out there, Aaron signed his first professional contract with the Minnesota Twins in 2015 at the ripe age of 18.
Ups and Downs
After a brief stint of games in 2015, Whitefield played his first full minor league baseball season in 2016 with the Gulf Coast League Twins. Whitefield game out with a bang, posting a .298/.370/.366 (.737) slash line in 51 games. 2017 was no different, with Whitefield slashing .262/.318/.414 (.732) in 151 games for Class A Cedar Rapids.
After two successful seasons, Whitefield hit a rut in 2018 and 2019, posting just a .205 batting average with stints in Rookie Ball, Single-A, Double-A, and a brief tenure with the Twins. Not the greatest duo of years for an organization looking for outfielders that can also hit.
Yet 2021 has been a beacon of light for Whitefield, who has been consistent at the plate all year. The Aussie slashed .306/.358/.458 in the month of May and,297/.381/.374 in June.
The resurgence is something that Aaron credits to finding a routine, something he observed from his peers.
"Watching guys that I've played with like (Alex) Kirilloff, (Trevor) Larnach, Travis Blankenhorn, I got to watch what made them successful, and it was sticking with their routine every day, whether they went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4," Whitefield said. "That was something that I hadn't done until this year."
It's no secret that baseball is as mental of a sport as it is physical. The ability to stay grounded with a consistent approach to preparation and hitting has kept Whitefield sound through the good and bad.
"The last couple of years in the minors, I feel like I'd do really well for a week or two, and then I'd hit a downfall and didn't know how to get out of that," he recalled. "Now, whether I have one, or two bad games, I'm gonna get back in there, reset, but the routine for every game is going to be the same. That's the biggest reason why I've been able to find success and be consistent this year. Baseball is a game of consistency, mental consistency as well."
That routine consists of some of the old-fashioned tactics that are commonplace in professional ball; tee work, flips, angled flips, and other cage work. However, one thing differs for Whitefield; he doesn't take on-field batting practice before games unless he's playing at a new ballpark with an unfamiliar batter's eye.
"I don't actually hit BP on the field so I can focus more on hitting low line drives," Whitefield said. "If I hit BP on the field, I tend to get a bit pull-happy."
After referencing the similarities between his batting practice routine and Shohei Ohtani's, Whitefield chuckled back with, "Hopefully, I can hit as many homers as him someday."
Whitefield may not be the Bomba-machine that Shohei is, but the guy knows how to get on base. His 11 doubles, four triples, and 30 stolen bases speak for themselves. Whitefield's commitment to his routine will prove critical as ever as the season nears an end. Despite a recent slump, Whitefield has posted hits in his last two games and looks to finish the season strong.
Twins' fans know well that Whitefield isn't the only Aussie that has shown success in the organization. Names like Lewis Thorpe, Grant Balfour, Liam Hendricks, and Luke Hughes have become commonplace in recent franchise history. Whitefield credits players like Hughes in helping him develop as a pro ballplayer.
Yet in a sport that idolizes names like Mantle, Mays, and Ruth, Whitefield's podium of heroes looks a bit different. Names like former Brewer David Nillson, who coached Whitefield and honed in on his mental game, pop up on his Mount Rushmore. Stefan Welch, a former St. Louis Cardinals organization player, and former Seattle pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith (a former Twins Rule 5 draft pick) serve as just a few names in Australian baseball lore that have inspired Whitefield.
"I came into the game late, and I didn't know anything, so they were like the Derek Jeter's and David Ortiz's for me," Whitefield said. "They helped me become a baseball player a lot earlier than I should have been in the sense that guys begin playing this sport at age five. I was 15 years late."
As Wichita dukes their way through the final six games of the year, Whitefield is excited for the Surge's quest towards a division title. Wichita sits three full games ahead of Frisco (Texas Rangers) as they head into their final series against Arkansas.
And while the immediate goal revolves around winning games each night, Aaron has his sights set on reaching MLB play again. Whitefield knows that he doesn't have the extensive background that many of his peers have. That doesn't matter to him.
"I think a lot of people forget how long that I've played baseball. My first two years, I was getting attention as a notable prospect, yet those were my first two years ever playing the sport," Whitefield said. "Then I had two bad years, and people were like 'ah this guy doesn't have it anymore.' This year is my sixth year of baseball, so kind of like coming out of playing high school and college. I want to show people that I can hit. My defense is there."
Whitefield knows that he saw time with the Twins in 2019 because of his skills in the field and on the base path. Aaron knows the next step is proving that he can be a force at the plate, something he's confident he can accomplish through his new tactics.
"I got up there because of my ability to base run and play defense; I need to show the Twins that I can be consistent at the plate, and my routine is huge for that."
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