HOUSTON — Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was front and center during the team’s annual Caravan and FanFest last week, signing autographs alongside All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa and manager A.J. Hinch, among others, while looking like a seasoned pro. Whitley, the Astros’ first-round Draft pick in 2016 out of San Antonio, looks like he belongs in the big leagues off the field and could soon get a chance to show he belongs on it.
The hard-throwing Whitley, the No. 2-ranked right-handed pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline (behind Shohei Ohtani of the Angels), reached Double-A at age 19 last year, striking out 26 batters in 14 2/3 innings in four games (two starts) with the Corpus Christi Hooks. That put an exclamation point on a terrific first full season in pro ball and set up Whitley to reach the big leagues in 2019.
“There’s extra excitement,” Whitley said of the 2018 season. “I’m going to try to stay in my lane, stay where my feet are and be humble as possible and just play the game.”
Whitley, who will pitch at 20 years old all of next year, started the year in Class A Quad Cities and went 2-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 games (10 starts), striking out 67 in 46 1/3 innings. He was promoted for the first time to high Class A Buies Creek and struck out 50 in 31 1/3 innings before finishing the year in Corpus Christi.
He struck out a whopping 143 batters in 92 1/3 innings across three levels last year and will likely start the season in the rotation at Double-A. A promotion to Triple-A by the end of the season could have him knocking on the door of the big leagues.
“Expectations are going to be there, but I’m going to go out there and play my game and not try to do too much,” he said.
Whitley could be invited to Major League camp as a non-roster player, where he could work alongside Justin Verlander, one of his idols. He said he’s been focusing on gaining some strength on his 6-foot-7 frame this offseason as opposed to focusing on conditioning a year ago.
“It’s been going really well thus far and I’m happy with my progress,” he said.