Ace Emerging? Could The Astros Forrest Whitley Develop Into A Top Starter?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

In his first full season of professional baseball, 2016 first round draft pick Forrest Whitley is making quick work of the minor leagues.  He’s already pitched at three levels, including making his Double-A debut on Thursday, and has impressed with each step.  Over 83.2 IP all he’s done is post a 2.80 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 13.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.

His first start at Double-A may have been his post impressive, striking out 11 over 6.0 shutout innings.  Just to put his stamp on the performance he gave up just 2 H without walking a batter.  The most impressive number we can point to this season is that walk rate, as it is generally the last thing to develop for a 6’7” pitcher, especially one who was drafted out of high school.  However he’s actually improved with each promotion:

  • Single-A – 4.1 BB/9 over 46.1 IP
  • High-A – 2.6 BB/9 over 31.1 IP
  • Double-A – 0.0 BB/9 over 6.0 IP

Only twice has he walked more than 4 batters in a game this season, just further bringing belief that he can maintain the mark.

There also is no questioning his repertoire, as he brings four quality pitches to the table.  Here’s how MLB.com has described his stuff:

Whitley projects to have four solid-or-better pitches, starting with a 92-95 mph fastball that tops out at 97, could have more velocity to come and features cutting and running action. He has a power curveball that peaks in the low 80s with good depth and tight spin, and he can turn it into a mid-80s slider when he wants. He has an advanced changeup for a pitcher fresh out of high school and already trusts it.

The one knock you can place on Whitley has been a lack of groundballs.  Obviously his time at Double-A is too small of a sample size, but his time in Single-A brought lackluster marks (groundball rate):

  • Single-A – 35.9%
  • High-A – 37.9%

That could lead to home run troubles, especially pitching half of his games in a hitter’s ballpark.  Of course hitters need to be able to make contact for it to become a problem, but it’s something to keep in mind and could ultimately limit his upside.  That’s not to say that he won’t be a productive starter in the Majors, as he could easily emerge as a #2 option, it’s just something that could plague him at times.

At 19-years old you would think that he’d be a few years away, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Having already reached Double-A, seeing him make his MLB debut in 2018 is very realistic.  A prospect on the rise, he’s definitely a name to have on your radar.

Current Grade – B+
Upside Grade – A-

Sources – MILB.com, Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, MLB.com

Make sure to check out our Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects by clicking here!

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