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Spring Training with the Squirrels: Part 1 

Checking in from Arizona as preparations continue for the 2024 season
March 22, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Spring is officially in the air in the Commonwealth, and baseball action will soon return to the Boulevard.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Spring is officially in the air in the Commonwealth, and baseball action will soon return to the Boulevard.

But “baseball activities” have been going strong for a while out in the Arizona desert, where the 2024 edition of the Richmond Flying Squirrels have been working to get ready for the upcoming season.

I have made my way out to Scottsdale, Ariz., home of spring training for the San Francisco Giants, to check in with Flying Squirrels of the past, present and future.

The Giants host their major league spring training at Scottsdale Stadium, right in the heart of the city’s popular Old Town district. About eight minutes south, just across the line in Pheonix, is the Giants Player Development Center at Papago Park, where minor league spring training is taking place. I have spent my time out here bouncing between the two, mostly hanging around Papago.

The Giants’ facility at Papago Park is quite a spectacle. Not only is it a beautiful setting for baseball, with the red sandstone formations hovering in the backdrop, but it is also a state-of-the-art hub for the Giants’ minor league operations. Opened in 2022, The main building includes offices, training rooms, weight rooms, video facilities, clubhouses, a cafeteria, offices and more. Surrounding that building, there are six full-size fields, a half-field, an agility field, an indoor facility and a row of bullpens.

“This is probably the best spring training facility there is,” 2023 Flying Squirrels pitcher Hayden Birdsong said. “By far. 100 percent,” fellow 2023 Richmond pitcher Carson Whisenhunt chimed in.

Players have been getting ready for the season at Papago for months. Minor league spring training games had officially started when I first got to town last week, giving players a chance to face competition from other teams after weeks of intrasquad action.

“We’re facing our own guys for about two-and-a-half weeks,” 2021-23 Flying Squirrels pitcher Matt Frisbee said. “Which is great. You work on live ABs, bullpens. You get here and you finally get to face a hitter. But seeing a different color uniform in the box, that definitely brings some excitement and makes it feel like that baseball atmosphere is coming back.”

Once the minor league spring games start, the players are broken down into groups by level: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A. The rosters are not quite how they will look when everyone breaks camp to begin the season with affiliates in April, with several players still in major league camp who will start the year in the minors. So the “Sacramento” and “Richmond” rosters are currently a mix of the guys we will probably see at The Diamond on Opening Day.

That list includes players like Birdsong, John Michael Bertrand, Jimmy Glowenke, Logan Wyatt, Ben Madison, Vaun Brown and others.

Whisenhunt is one of the players who had been in major league camp and was recently assigned back to the minors. The left-hander enters this year rated by Baseball America as the No. 4 Giants prospect after reaching Double-A with the Flying Squirrels in 2023.

“It was a really good experience,” Whisenhunt said of his time in major league camp with the Giants. “Being around (Logan) Webb, (Alex) Cobb, Robbie (Ray), talking with them and picking their brains. Even Harry (Kyle Harrison), being a guy who was in the minor leagues and got his opportunity. I learned a lot of good things and took what I could out of it.”

After dominating with San Jose and Eugene, Whisenhunt joined the Flying Squirrels at Double-A last June. The North Carolina native made six starts, most of them carrying that same dominance to the upper levels of the minors.

“Richmond was definitely good,” Whisenhunt said. “It was closer to home. My family got to come out and watch. Don’t get me wrong, San Jose and Eugene were a good time, being around all the guys and seeing the different places around there, but Richmond being closer to home, I knew the area better and I had been there a few times. It was good.”

In his six starts with Richmond, he held opposing teams to no earned runs four times while posting 12.4 K/9.

“The competition gets a little bit better each level that you go to, but everybody says the biggest jump is High-A to Double-A,” Whisenhunt said. “I can see why. I am trying to just go out there and compete, throw my best stuff at them. Certain days you have it, certain days you don’t. I had some really good success and I struggled a little bit, especially when the injury started coming around. Things started going downhill a little bit, struggling with command, velo, things like that. The injury cut it short but now we are back here this year trying to get prepared and hoping for the same results I had last year, just staying healthy this time.”

His first full professional season ended in July when he was placed on the injured list for the rest of the year. Whisenhunt finished the year with a 2.45 ERA in 16 starts across three levels. This year, he is focused on staying healthy and putting together a full season.

“We’ve been doing a bunch of different stuff in the weight room and in the training room,” Whisenhunt said. “Mostly just focusing on those things that were bothering me last year, adjusting and tweaking routines and things like that. Not trying to overdo anything, just staying composed and keep everything simple.”

Stay tuned for the next part of our report from spring training, including comments from former Flying Squirrels Kyle Harrison, Wade Meckler and Tyler Fitzgerald. We will also have some full interviews from my trip to spring training available in the coming days on the Funnville Nine Podcast, available on Apple and Spotify.

For Part 2 of my coverage from spring training in Arizona, click here.