How Former Astros Top Prospect Forrest Whitley Can Finally Breakout in 2024

How Former Astros Top Prospect Forrest Whitley Can Finally Breakout in 2024
How Former Astros Top Prospect Forrest Whitley Can Finally Breakout in 2024 Forrest Whitley appeals his case for a major league roster spot in spring training.

When Forrest Whitley was drafted 17th overall in the 2016 MLB draft, he was widely considered a highly developed prospect and future top-of-the-rotation arm in the making. The once-heralded prospect, who ranked seventh on MLB’s annual top 100 prospect list as recently as 2019, was on a fast track to break camp with the emerging Astros. Now 26, Whitley has yet to throw a pitch in the big leagues and continues to struggle in AAA Sugar Land while the Astros enter 2024 on the heels of their seventh consecutive ALCS appearance in an era of baseball shaped by sustained Astros success. Whitley watched from the sidelines while many of his minor league teammates made significant contributions to the Astros’ 2017 and 2022 championship runs. 

Entering his ninth year in the Astros organization, Whitley’s career thus far continues to be underwhelming. Once projected to lead the Astros rotation, he continues to struggle against minor league hitting, going 1-2 with a 5.70 ERA and pitching in only eight games in 2023 before a shoulder injury shut him down for the remainder of the season. Marred by injuries, suspension due to violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy, and poor performance, Whitley’s path to the Astros talented big league roster seems slim. However, many within the Astros organization remain optimistic that Whitley can not only break through the Astros big league roster in 2024 but make significant contributions to another deep playoff run. 

The Astros, who reacquired Justin Verlander at last year’s trade deadline, expect Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia to return to the team from the injured list by the All-Star Break and join Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Christian Javier in one of the American League’s premier starting rotations. Thus, Astros General Manager Dana Brown announced in January that the team plans to convert Whitley to the bullpen in 2024. With the departure of Phil Maton, Hector Neris, and Ryne Stanek in free agency this offseason, the Astros need middle relief options to bridge the gap between their starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen, widely considered the best in baseball. Whitley, who has not yet pitched in Spring Training despite being on the Astros 40-man roster, is expected to receive increased playing time as Opening Day approaches, hoping to earn a spot on the Astros Opening Day roster.

Being healthy for a full season is vital for Whitley’s major league aspirations. Since becoming a part of the Astros Organization in 2016, Whitley has yet to play a full season, having suffered several injuries, including a UCL sprain which caused him to miss the entire 2021 season as he recovered from Tommy John Surgery. Whitley reportedly made significant adjustments to his off-season workout regiment in hopes of maintaining physical health for a full season. This past offseason, Whitley worked closely with 4APP Sports, a sports science and biometric company whose aim is to utilize data and analytics to optimally support a player’s training regimen and on-field performance. Whitley underwent intensive testing of his physical condition and made adjustments to his offseason training regimen to improve the strength of his arm tissue resiliency as he hopes to rebound from another injury-plagued season. Capitalizing on opportunities provided in Spring Training and being able to demonstrate a successful transition to the bullpen in AAA Sugar Land is also key in determining Whitley’s role with the Astros in 2024. If he can successfully adjust to pitching out of the bullpen and improve his output relative to recent years’ performmance, the Astros are once again expected to place him on a fast track trajectory to a spot on their major league roster. 

Sean Kohanloo

Sean Kohanloo is a writer who graduated from California State University, San Marcos with a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration, Finance. A Houston native who currently resides in San Diego, Sean is an avid supporter of the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres and expresses his lifelong affinity for baseball through his writing.

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