The Houston Astros are still waiting for Forrest Whitley to really arrive, but he’s certainly not at the level of Mark Appel.
If Forrest Whitley was just everything he was cracked up to be right this moment, the Houston Astros probably wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in right now, unable to figure out how to put together a cohesive rotation that can stem the tide of runs.
It’s understandable to be concerned about Whitley, and it’s even more understandable when you consider that no more than a few years ago, the Astros were in a similar situation with Mark Appel. Both Appel and Whitley were selected under the Jeff Luhnow reign, both in the first round, both projected to be among the best starters in baseball.
Appel never featured for the Astros and left baseball at the age of 26. For lack of a better, more fluffy word, he was a complete failure for the Astros, and for fans, it would be more than a little nice to see something different from Whitley.
Astros want to see Forrest Whitley, but will they ever?
At 22-years-old, Whitley has a few red flags. Mostly the ballooning ERAs you’ll see in his history in the minors. Generally speaking, you don’t want to see 8.00+, 12.00+. Especially when that 12.00+ ERA was in his first foray in AAA.
That was only 24 innings but still, 12.00+? No good.
Mark Appel’s last year in the Astros system wasn’t good, but it was at AAA, he posted an ERA of just over 5.00 and that was in 68 innings across 12 starts. That’s a bit more of a sample size but, more importantly, it’s not as grotesquely huge of an ERA than Whitley.
The silver lining? Appel was 24, Whitley is, right now, only 22. So Whitley has more time. But you need more verification than just time in order to not panic.
That’s what makes it hard about Whitley though—the numbers are so all over the place that it’s hard to even stick a pin on a definitive fact about his progression.
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Take for instance the BB/9 stat. Appel’s gradually went up and up and up during his time in Houston and continuing on to his time in Philadelphia. Whitley’s has gone up and down, and up and down and ballooning and shrinking, and it’s been that way for most of his other numbers as well (don’t even get me started on his individual game logs). But there is one thing that has stayed the same—he strikes out a hell of a lot of guys.
By now you’re probably wondering when I’m going to just tell you why Whitley is not just another Appel. So let me just do that—for one, Whitley just has better tools than Appel and while he hasn’t latched onto any sort of consistency, Appel did. Appel was consistently lackluster. Whitley, when he’s been on, has been incredible. When he’s been bad, he’s been awful. But he’s also never seen more than 46.1 innings in a season. When he did, he was quite good. He was consistent.
Not just that, but if you look at prospect rankings, Whitley has always ranked higher than Appel, no matter the source. At his worst, Whitley ranked the No. 26 prospect in baseball—that’s right now, by Baseball Prospectus. Mark Appel, much like his statistics, was a gradual decline. From No. 17, to 30, to 70 (from MLB) and from No. 21, to 35, to 64 (from Baseball America). His decline was plain to see.
Whitley’s isn’t. Sure, he ranks the lowest he ever has, and maybe he goes a similar route and gradually falls down these rankings. But he hasn’t yet and the raw tools are still there and, as mentioned, until we start seeing an actual regression, and not just inconsistencies, we can’t say that he’s just another Appel.
While the numbers are in a state of flux, I’ll tell you to keep faith. Whitley needs a proper chance to establish himself before we start passing judgment. This year is important, but it’s also not the be-all, end-all.