On Tuesday, FanGraphs released their projections for divisional play outs and chances teams will make the postseason. Among that group, the Houston Astros are expected to win the American League West with a 71.4% chance; PECOTA is projecting around the same ballpark at 71.6%. These numbers will vary by outlet, but one thing stands the same; the Astros are in the weakest division in the AL. The only competition difference between the two is that FanGraphs is higher on the Los Angeles Angels to finish second than the Oakland Athletics like PECOTA is, but one reoccurring thing seen by a few outlets, FanGraphs aren’t riding with prospect Forrest Whitley.
Moving into the minor league systems, FanGraphs listed their Top 100 Prospects list on Wednesday that included three Astros, but in an unorthodox way than what we have seen before. Jeremy Pena was the only Astros prospect to crack the top 100 at 66, and they had a lot of praise for the middle infielder. With perfect scores in raw power and run, they also have him among the best combinations of fielding and hitting on this list. One name that isn’t mentioned a lot is Hunter Brown, who ranks outside the top 100 at 120. Brown has seen great top out on his fastball around 97-99 mph, but he sits around the low 90s along with an above average slider.
FanGraphs thinks the Astros will win the AL West, but they aren’t too high on Forrest Whitley.
The third and final Astro featured is top prospect, Forrest Whitley. While coming in at 106, just missing the top 100, Whitley isn’t being seen as the dominant pitching prospect like he is by other news outlets including FanGraphs in the past.
The issues circling the progression and consistency of the Astros #1 ranked prospect dates back to his high school days after being drafted. We saw a great leap in the first 18 months in the Astros farm system, but Whitley has battled oblique and shoulder issues topped by a suspension that sat him out for a few months. The right-hander ranks perfect in their fastball, slider, curveball, changeup and cutter ratios, but Whitley is coming with an “injury prone” tag that is defining his career.
We have been talking about our excitement for Whitley ever since the Astros drafted him, but the frustrations are seen across faces of fans and baseball scouts. The progression for high school pitchers to make it to the show isn’t something to rush as they are coming off a total different type of baseball, and for Whitley, he battled injuries, a lousy suspension and a pandemic that lost him a season of work.
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FanGraphs is uncertain that Whitley’s command will get better, as that is his main struggle on the mound, while showing inconsistency in his fastball speed. Off the mound, his injuries have led to him regressing in his workouts. The first-round pick from 2016 is entering another season hopeful of making the show, but longevity is deemed an issue for Whitley. While being a five pitch pitcher, FanGraphs is doubtful he can do this on a yearly bases while throwing a flamethrower fastball.
While coming in with a new look, pitchers and catcher report today (workouts start tomorrow), and once again, Whitley is among the starting cast in West Palm Beach. On other top 100 lists, the right-hander ranks 80 by Baseball America, 29 by The Athletic, 69 by Baseball Prospectus, and 41 by MLB Pipeline. This was his first time not making it into the top 100, although ESPN didn’t rank a single Astros prospect in their top 100, he was the only Houston name ranked by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.
FanGraphs also had a full interview about his progressions through the Minor Leagues. Also, they touched on his personal struggles along with his pitching grips. Whitley is currently in West Palm Beach, but has not reported to camp yet for an undisclosed reason.
I’ll let you make the defining call like I have before. Although I think come September the Astros should bring up Whitley if he is ready, I am also not too high on the right-hander just yet. He missed a full season of work in 2020, and it pointed to a regressed stint. The Astros are heading into a tougher free agency in 2021-22, while starting pitchers Lance McCullers Jr., Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke will all be up for grabs, not to mention also Carlos Correa.