Astros: Forrest Whitley primed for rebound after rough season

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: Forrest Whitley #68 of the Houston Astros poses for a portrait during photo days at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 19, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: Forrest Whitley #68 of the Houston Astros poses for a portrait during photo days at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 19, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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The Astros top prospect endured a rough 2019 season but could be primed for a rebound.

Prior to the 2019 season, there was hope among Astros fans that top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley would add a boost to the starting rotation in the second half of the season. Unfortunately for all parties involved, that hope did not turn into reality.

Whitley started the year in Triple-A but struggled mightily. He made five starts and three relief appearances and allowed 33 earned runs in 24.1 innings. He allowed hits and walks at an alarming rate, leading to the Astros shutting him down and placing him on the Injured List with shoulder fatigue.

After taking some time to rest and rehab, he returned to the mound in July, but his results were mixed at best. He made six starts for Double-A Corpus Christi in August and early September and totaled a 5.56 ERA with an incredibly high walk rate of 7.5 per nine innings. He also struck out a ridiculous 14.3 per nine, so his stuff may have been back, but his command wasn’t.

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Thankfully, Whitley seemed to turn a corner in the Arizona Fall League. He made six starts, working to a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings. Most notably, his peripheral stats looked much better. He allowed 3.2 walks per nine and 7.9 hits per nine while striking out 11.5 per nine. Those numbers will translate well if he can carry them into next season.

2020 Outlook

Expect to see Whitley in Major League Spring Training, just as he was in 2019. Also like 2019, don’t expect him to start the regular season in the majors. No matter how well he pitches in Grapefruit League action, the Astros will certainly want to see him conquer Triple-A hitters before having him make his big league debut.

But if he’s able to pitch well in Round Rock, Whitley could find himself making his Houston debut at some point before the All-Star break. Part of that depends on who else the Astros add to the team, as they’re known to be looking for multiple starting pitchers. If he pitches well and there’s a spot for him, he may find himself with the Astros at some point.

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Whitley is still ranked as the team’s top prospect. He still possesses four plus pitches and has the ceiling of a true ace. Time will tell if he realizes that potential, but the 22-year-old is in a position to get things back on track in 2020.

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