Last year, Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron were the big story.
This year, a different top-drafted prospect from high school is the name that draws the eye when you scroll down the Quad Cities Low-A Roster for the Astros.
Forrest Whitley, the 6’7”, 240 pound fireballing right-handed starting pitcher from San Antonio, Texas who was drafted in the first round by the Houston Astros in 2016, will report to Davenport, Iowa and be an integral part of the rotation for the River Bandits in 2017...until he gets promoted out of there, at least.
As a brief aside, noted prospect guru Eric Longenhagen, currently on staff at FanGraphs, had this response to a question this writer posed to he and fellow FanGraphian Eno Sarris (another FanGraph guru, if you’re not familiar, who “liked” Longenhagen’s response) about what a reasonable comparison for Forrest Whitley would be:
@TheArmoryBand @enosarris I avoid comps in general and have also never seen a 6'7, 240lb high schooler with a five pitch mix before— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) April 5, 2017
Kind of a backwards way to compliment a young prospect, one might say...and it’s entirely possible this writer is reading too much into the response. But when someone whose entire professional life is centered around observing young players points out a (generally-desirable) set of traits (in this case, being physically massive, young, and in control of five pitches) that is exceedingly rare (or unique, according to Longenhagen), I tend to get a bit excited.
But beyond this marquee name, what else might the 2017 Quad Cities River Bandits have to offer Astros fans and fans of minor league baseball?
Quite a bit, of course, which should probably not surprise anyone who follows Astros baseball at this point. The organization is one of the best in baseball at fielding and developing extremely talented minor league rosters.
Here’s a short look...we’ll dive in at a greater depth throughout the course of the upcoming season.
Forrest Whitley is the obvious name that jumps out here, but there are other names worth mentioning, too. Fourth round 2016 draftee Brett Adcock will be a particularly interesting name to watch this year, for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a left handed pitcher with big stuff who posted massive strikeout numbers in college. Second, because he has control issues almost as big as his ability to miss bats, and his selection raised some eyebrows among Astros prospectphiles last June. It’ll be interesting to see what he can really do under the guidance of Russ Steinhorn, Drew French, Jason Bell, and the Houston Astros minor league coaching and development staff.
Derick Velasquez, who was a promising arm drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 draft before missing significant time with a major injury, will be another arm to watch particularly closely.
There are quite a few interesting names on the position player side of the ball. One of particularly stout interest to this writer is catcher (and 2016 draftee) Jake Rogers, who has been hailed as the best defensive player (at any position, not just catcher) in the draft last year. The Astros have had a solid track record recently of drafting young catchers whose bats haven’t been as polished and seeing those bats blossom (Garrett Stubbs, Jamie Ritchie, etc) as minor leaguers so it will be very, very interesting to see whether Rogers can become even a passable enough hitter to be considered a blue chip prospect at a position which is obviously traditionally defense-first and light offensively.
Among infielders, Randy Cesar is a deep sleeper to watch, but Anibal Sierra was the Cuban infielder that the Astros signed this International Free Agent signing period who put the Astros over their allotment, which will affect their pool limits the next two years. Watching Sierra will be very interesting for Astros prospectphiles who will be very interested in seeing whether Sierra is worth the investment.
The outfield is literally crammed full of talent...Daz Cameron returns after a disastrous 2016 season that saw him struggle mightily before an injury ended his season, and he’ll be looking to re-establish himself as a top prospect in the organization. High draftees from 2016 each, Stephen Wrenn and Ronnie Dawson will join Cameron in the outfield. Carmen Benedetti is another deeper sleeper to keep an eye on as well.