Astros in the Minors: Forrest Whitley to start on Friday

codypoage
WEST PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 09: A ball sits on the field as the St. Louis Cardinals take batting practice before a spring training game against the Houston Astros at FITTEAM Ball Park of the Palm Beaches on March 9, 2018 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 09: A ball sits on the field as the St. Louis Cardinals take batting practice before a spring training game against the Houston Astros at FITTEAM Ball Park of the Palm Beaches on March 9, 2018 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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The Astros regain the services of one of their top prospects this Friday in Corpus Christi.

Following a 50-game suspension issued for violating the MiLB Drug Prevention and Treatment Program during the offseason, Astros‘ top prospect Forrest Whitley is scheduled to make his 2018 debut.

His first appearance of the 2018 season will be a start against the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, the Frisco Rough Riders.

By coincidence, Whitley’s start falls on the same day that Justin Verlander starts against the Rangers in Arlington. I hope the Rangers’ organization likes strikeouts.

Regardless of the opponent, Whitley’s return is a positive development. The age-20 pitcher was simply on another level compared to his peers in 2017. Over the course of 92.1 innings ranging across three different minor league levels, Whitley posted a 2.83 ERA with 143 strikeouts and only 34 walks.

Yes, 143 flipping strikeouts!

The Astros’ prospect finished his 2017 season with an incredible 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings. In 14.2 innings for the Corpus Christi Hooks last season, he struck out 26 hitters. Remember that Whitley finished the season with the Hooks. He already had 77.2 innings on his arm by that point of the season. His first season inning total in the Astros’ organization back in 2016 was only 18.2 innings.

In a June 6th article by Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, general manager Jeff Luhnow openly discussed the possibility of Whitley helping the Astros out in the major league level THIS SEASON.

"“The motivation is there, he’s learned a lesson. We’re going to need him down the road, whether it’s this year or next year. I think he’s going to play an important role for our organization this year.”"

And Luhnow already sounds pretty confident that Whitley will be able to pick up where he left off last season.

"“I have high expectations for Forrest,” Luhnow said. “Once he gets back out to Double-A, he’s going to pick up where he left off – completely dominating minor league hitters. I think he’s going to be anxious to make up for lost time."

When I read Luhnow’s quotes, I couldn’t help but think of how the Tampa Bay Rays handled David Price out of the bullpen during the 2008 postseason. And that plan is feasible. Whitley has been staying in shape at the Astros’ West Palm Beach facilities during his suspension. In a May 30th article by Rome of the Houston Chronicle, Luhnow saw a silver lining in Whitley’s suspension in regards to both off-the-field and on-the-field matters.

"“I’m hoping it’s a blessing in disguise because a: other players will not end up in his situation,” Luhnow said, “and b: we saved a couple bullets in his arm there that may come into play later this year.”"

Next: Astros Series Preview: Deep into Texas enemy territory

Whether this plan for Whitley comes to fruition remains to be seen. The Astros will monitor his progress intently and will not rush him if the organization deems he is not ready. But if Whitley continues to dominate and gets a chance to pitch in the majors this season, then the Astros will have another weapon at their disposal in the quest of another championship.

**Statistics and information courtesy of Baseball Reference**

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