Astros: Forrest Whitley impresses in live batting practice

Houston Astros, Forrest Whitley (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Houston Astros, Forrest Whitley (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Houston Astros top prospect Forrest Whitley looked good in live batting practice.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic putting the entire sports world on hold, one of the more important things Houston Astros fans were looking forward to this season is how top prospect Forrest Whitley would fare. After a particularly rough 2019, he needed to get back on track.

Whitley threw a 25-pitch live batting practice session (in essence, a simulated game) on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, facing Kyle Tucker, Garrett Stubbs and Myles Straw. We don’t have a “score,” per se, but we do know he struck out Tucker and from all accounts looked rather impressive.

Manager Dusty Baker said afterward that Whitley looked the best he’d seen, which would include his outings back in Spring Training. For his part, Whitley said, “It’s go time. I treated that 20-pitch live BP like it was Game 7 of the World Series, and I think that’s how I’ll treat everything going forward.”

After gaining weight leading up to Spring Training in an attempt to improve his durability, Whitley said he’s dropped the weight back off (about 30 pounds worth) because he’s more comfortable without it. We’ll see if or how that affects him, but obviously the main focus is keeping him healthy and getting his mechanics in order.

When he’s on, he’s got the potential to be a true ace. The 22-year-old former first-round pick is the team’s top prospect and the No. 19 prospect in the game. He has some of the best raw stuff of any young pitcher around and just needs to hone his command and sharpen up his delivery. It’s not hard to imagine him winning some Cy Young Awards in the future.

Where Whitley Fits

Whitley started the 2019 season at Triple-A Round Rock but was absolutely torched to the tune of a 12.21 ERA in 24.1 innings. He was shut down for a while, supposedly due to arm troubles, and had shaky results at a couple different minor league levels upon his return. He looked better in the Arizona Fall League, so the hope was that he put the lost season behind him.

He allowed five runs in six innings in Spring Training, so the results weren’t necessarily there, but it was a small sample size. The fact that he looked so good in live BP is a good sign and hopefully an indicator of things to come.

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For the time being, it’s premature to think he’ll be in the major league rotation this year. He is on the team’s player pool, so he’s available if needed, but given his lack of any kind of success at Triple-A, he likely won’t be one of the first in line to fill rotation spots if need be.

As we examined yesterday, Jose Urquidy and Josh James have yet to arrive, so it’s possible the Astros will need to fill the last two spots at the back of the rotation. Even still, there are guys who’d be higher on the depth chart than Whitley, so fans should exercise patience.

It’s also possible Whitley could be used in relief if needed, which might be the way to go at least for this season. He didn’t throw many innings last year and the team doesn’t want to overtax his prized arm, so using him as emergency bullpen help might be the best thing for him. It’ll get his feet wet in the majors and allow the team to utilize his talent while protecting him a bit.

If he pitches to his potential, he could be a real weapon. He’s always had high strikeout rates and possesses a rare repertoire of four plus pitches (five if you count his sinking and cutting fastballs separately). In this short season, just about anything is possible, but don’t hold your breath just yet. It’s still early.