The future of the Astros’ pitching staff is currently one of the top prospects in baseball.
Forrest Whitley is only 20-years old. Let me repeat this again: Forrest Whitley is only 20-years old. And he’s the top pitching prospect in the Astros‘ farm system, which happens to be one of the most progressive organizations in baseball. That’s not a bad place to be as young pitcher.
Prospects are are almost never a “sure thing”, though. Yes, almost never. But some can achieve it.
That said, I am not ready to declare that Whitley will be a successful major league pitcher. I am confident he will be, but prospects are called prospects for a reason. However, per MLB Pipeline, Whitley is the second-best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball behind only Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. And Ohtani, barring an unforeseen development, will be on the Angels’ Opening Day roster. I have a feeling Whitley is approaching the “sure thing” threshold.
Let’s discuss how good Whitley has been and why the Astros may have something special.
Whitley, once again only 20-years old, started the 2017 season with the Quad Cities River Bandits where he posted impressive numbers over 12 appearances. In 46.1 innings, the right-hander maintained a 13.01 K/9 with a 2.91 ERA and 2.66 FIP. For a bit more context, Whitley struck out 67 batters in 46.1 innings. Impressive.
The fun didn’t end there for the top prospect, though.
For one, Whitley was promoted to the Buies Creek Astros, the Advanced-A level, following his stint in Quad Cities. Once he reached Buies Creek, he continued to strike out batters at a remarkably high rate — 14.36 K/9 — while lowering his walks per nine innings from 4.08 to 2.59. Remarkable. All in 31.1 innings, in which he struck out 50 batters. Overall, Whitley posted a 3.16 ERA and a 2.069FIP. Again, impressive.
Then there was one last promotion to the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Astros’ Double-A affiliate in the Texas League. In Corpus, Whitley again improved his strikeout per nine innings up to 15.95 and lowered his walks per nine innings to 2.45. In 14.2 innings, he posted an 1.84 ERA and 1.68 FIP. The small sample size would be an understandable counterargument, however, you cannot dispute the numbers from a 20-year old pitcher where the average age of Double-A player was roughly 24-years old a few years ago.
Now it is time for rankings and scouting grades.
If you like prospect rankings, then you would love MLB Pipeline. Over there, the site ranked Whitley as the second-best prospect in the Astros’ farm system last year. Only Kyle Tucker ranked higher on the site. MLB Pipeline in their 2018 Top Prospect rankings gave Whitley an overall grade of 60, so he is pushing into the above-average territory. Here is an excerpt from Whitley’s MLB Pipeline profile that should leave you impressed.
"The Astros rated Whitley higher than any high school pitcher in the 2016 Draft and got him at No. 17 overall — the sixth one selected — for a $3,148,000 bonus. Their assessment looks spot on so far, as no Minor Leaguer who worked as many as his 92 1/3 innings in 2017 exceeded his strikeout rate of 13.9 per nine innings. He posted a 1.84 ERA in four August outings in Double-A, joining Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Dylan Bundy as the only prep first-round arms this century to advance to that level in their first full pro season."
We are still awaiting on the 2018 prospect rankings from Fangraphs, but there is the 2017 rankings to look back upon. Last year, Fangraphs ranked Whitley fourth overall in the Astros’ farm system while assigning him a 50 Future Value, or FV. I have a feeling that his ranking will rise based on two factors: one, the performance in 2017; two, the departure of Francis Martes and Franklin Perez from the Astros’ prospect rankings.
Over at Baseball America, their staff ranks Whitley as the tenth-best prospect in baseball. Actually, he is the only Astros prospect in the top ten. Tucker is next at 15th overall. Not too shabby.
Whitley has a bright future in professional baseball. He has already made an impact in the Astros’ lower affiliates and will likely continue to do so as he advances into the upper minors. At this rate, we may see Whitley in a Houston uniform in 2018. However, the possibility of this outcome has to be quite small. The more likely debut date the right-hander will be 2019 if he continues to progress at a similar pace. Regardless, we are anxiously awaiting the day to see him in Houston up close.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs, MLB Pipeline, MiLB.com and Baseball America**