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Astros: Could we see Forrest Whitley in 2018 as a reliever?

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OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 20: Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros signals the bullpen to make a pitching change against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the six inning at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on June 20, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 20: Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros signals the bullpen to make a pitching change against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the six inning at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on June 20, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Forrest Whitley, the Astros secret weapon out of the bullpen in 2018?

After serving a 50 game suspension in the minors, Astros top prospect Forrest Whitley has returned to playing baseball. Last Friday, he made his Hooks debut, allowing one hit in four innings, while striking out five batters. Last night, Whitley made his second start of the season, throwing four shutout innings, while striking out six and walking two. Whitley threw 55 pitches in his first start and increased to 72 last night via the MiLB App.

Whitley stayed in Florida during his suspension to try to try to build and maintain his stamina. The Astros are still taking it slow with the young flamethrower. Ideally, they would want to have him get stretched out in Double-A, then go up to the hitter-friendly California League with the Grizzlies. Then, if all goes well, then he could be ready to challenge for the 2019 rotation next spring.

With the trade deadline approaching in July, you can imagine that many teams will be asking for the Astros top prospects. That would include Whitley, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez. The Astros will most likely say, outside of those guys, who do you want? They will do what they can to hold onto those guys, but they will be open-minded to others.

Could Whitley come up sooner?

One thing that my Talking Stros co-host Brandon keeps suggesting is something I shrugged off at first. He has maintained that the Astros could use some help in the bullpen later in the season. Instead of trading a talented player like Whitley, why not use him down the stretch? If they need to use him in the rotation, that would mean things are looking down for the starting five. They would also want him to develop a little longer before bringing him up.

You ready for his bold suggestion?

What if the Astros brought him up to be the Astros closer down the stretch?

Break him in like the Cardinals did with Adam Wainwright, as the closer. As we have learned recently, AJ Hinch doesn’t like to label a guy the closer. We will see Ken Giles or Hector Rondon in save situations right now, but don’t be surprised to see Chris Devenski to get a save here or there.

Would Hinch put Whitley in a high-leverage save situation at his young age?

While I’m not entirely onboard with the closer scenario, but I could see him in the Astros bullpen. We have seen Roy Oswalt and Shane Reynolds break into the big leagues in the bullpen, before going to the rotation the following year. Whitley will definitely have the stuff to compete in the bullpen, and he can also gain some valuable experience versus big league talent. He could bring the heat in limited bullpen stints.

The Astros have really been hesitant to pay high prices for relievers in trades outside of the haul that they gave up for Giles. If you are worried about whether Whitley would be playoff eligible like we were? He will be, thanks for the help clarifying this Jason Marbach. Also, based on the new CBA, a player does not need to be on the 40-man roster by September 1st, just in the organization.

Next: Astros Trade Hypothetical: Three relievers to target in a trade this summer

Like I said on Talking Stros this week, none of the top prospects will be called up unless there is a big need for that player. The Astros are deep enough now where they don’t need to rely on too many young players. Hence, the logjam of offensive talent at Triple-A. If there are some injuries or ineffectiveness, they could need Whitley. But they don’t want to start Whitley’s arbitration clock until needed.

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