Astros top prospect Kyle Tucker made his debut in 2018, though it was relatively short-lived. The team’s top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley may not see any MLB field in 2019. But that’s not a problem.
The Houston Astros continue to have one of the better farm systems in the league. Lately, the Midwest club has slowly weaved in its top prospects into its everyday roster as well.
But there are still a few that have yet to make a large impact for Houston. The big-named prospect with the most anticipated debut in the coming year is Forrest Whitley.
The former first-rounder had an abbreviated 2018 season, due to a suspension and a few minor injuries. What looked like a projectable rookie campaign turned into a Double-A vacation essentially.
Yet the Astros still substituted their top pitching prospect with other hurlers like Josh James and Frambler Valdez. Thus, as the season approaches, Houston can remain patient with Whitley and his slow development.
It’s the best plan at this point, considering that the Astros still have a formidable pitching rotation. This is all despite the fact that they didn’t make a major acquisition in the pitching department this far into the offseason.
The 21-year-old still has plenty of time to establish himself in the minors. His current sample size is small but promising. Yet there is plenty of room for improvement.
Nevertheless, Whitley has fit his prospect profile so far. The lanky right-hander throws hard and has a bite to his fastball. He also possesses a swift curve and power slider that keeps hitters guessing where the ball will break.
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Before his obstacles in 2018, the Houston prospect turned heads with strong Double-A numbers. His 2017 stats included a 15.95 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio and a .82 WHIP. Whitley still performed well at the same level in 2018, owning a WHIP below 1.00 and a strikeout percentage greater than 30 percent, per FanGraphs.
Yet the inexperience showed, and his durability was tested. Astros manager A.J. Hinch considered adding Whitley to the postseason roster. Instead, the starting pitcher traveled to Arizona to toss 26 more innings against live hitters.
That small decision could be the difference between an influential season in the bigs or another educational campaign for the budding star. But Hinch has shown he is not going to rush the potential he sees.
Houston’s rotation currently consists of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Collin McHugh, Josh James and an empty spot per se. Brad Peacock is likely in the back end barring any injuries, although a younger player can slide into the fifth spot as well.
Some fans might think Whitley’s presence and impact will be great throughout 2019. But the reality is that he is still young, untested and error-prone.
Patience will be the key with the Astros starter. Surely, the organization would prefer a consistent top-tier pitcher within the next three years. Instead, it could end up with a back-end guy that is flustered easily due to a mediocre start to their MLB career. That’s essentially the difference between Blake Snell and Lucas Giolito at this point.
Patience is the key. And in Whitley’s case, it could result in a future ace leading Houston’s pitching pack by as early as 2020.