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A Modest Proposal

The Astros might have a secret weapon in their back pocket, if they so choose

Forrest Whitley Signs With The Astros
Forrest Whitley Signs With The Astros
Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle

The Astros are set to announce their ALCS roster today, and it's expected to differ from their ALDS roster slightly. Wade Miley, who has come unraveled down the stretch and didn't show well in his one playoff appearance- a low leverage situation- is going to miss the cut. Additionally, it's unlikely that the team will again opt for six outfielders, as they did in the division series. I'd argue that, after George Springer and Michael Brantley, a combination of Kyle Tucker, Jake Marisnick and Myles Straw has the most utility, but it seems unlikely that the Astros would leave Reddick off given his experience level, particularly in the outfields of Minute Maid Park and, perhaps more importantly, Yankee Stadium. This means Myles Straw, who is unlikely to be used as anything but a pinch runner or perhaps pinch hitter because of Marisnick's superior defense, is most likely to be left off.

This leaves the Astros with two spots for new options, and presumably they will both be pitchers. One of those spots doesn't need to be given much thought. So long as Brad Peacock is healthy, he's a lock for the Yankees series. Peacock is a proven performer, including in high leverage postseason situations, and is able to go beyond three outs.

For the last opening, the leading candidates would be Joe Biagini and Bryan Abreu. Both of these hurlers would be good options- Biagini's heavy stuff has made him a steady contributor in Toronto in recent years, and the Astros had him stay loose during the division series. Abreu is far less experienced, but has plus stuff across the board and showed well in September out of the pen. Abreu is an electric arm capable of reaching the upper 90s with hard breaking stuff, and is an exciting part of Houston's future.

While Biagini and Abreu are both quality choices, I'd be partial to Abreu out of the two against the Yankees. Biagini has thrown against the Yankees frequently in the past and I think the element of unfamiliarity is a significant advantage for Abreu, outweighing his lesser command and control.

But, there's one last option for that last spot that I haven't been able to get out of my mind- #1 prospect Forrest Whitley. It was a tumultuous season for the 6'7" starter, who spent much of the spring and summer throwing at the Astros' complex, and, as we'd learn later, working on mechanical changes. There were some growing pains as Whitley acclimated to his updated delivery, but on days where he's been on, he's been his best self, capable of dotting his mid 90s fastball and 3000+ RPM breaking ball for strikes. Currently, he's in the Arizona Fall League, where he's been the hottest pitcher in the league thus far. In 16 innings, Whitley has put together a 25/5 K/BB ratio and 1.13 ERA, including two walk-free starts with eight and six strikeouts.

He's loose, his curveball is as good as ever, and his confidence is no doubt running high given his successes down the stretch, which have extended into fall play. Why not consider Forrest Whitley for the last spot on the playoff roster?

His wobbly control this season has to give pause, but he's seemed to tighten things up as the season has gone on this year. Were he to join the Astros, he'd have a greatly simplified role. He could temporarily set aside his slider and change, sticking to his plus fastball/curveball combination and throw with a bit more effort to add juice to his formidable fastball. While his development as a starter is of utmost importance to the Astros future, I think that Whitley could be a very difficult matchup for big league hitters right now out of the pen. And, for the sake of clarity, he is eligible to join the club. He would need to be added to the 40 man, but the Astros could make some room for him fairly easily by designating someone like Dean Deetz. Postseason eligibility rules can be confusing, but the only real requirement is that the player was in the organization prior to September 1st.

Of course, there are factors that make this move unlikely, and for good reason. For one, Whitley has no major league experience whatsoever. The Astros likely expected him to be ready to help the club down the stretch at the season's outset, but mechanical inconsistency got in the way of that materializing. Additionally, Whitley's throwing schedule in Arizona doesn't indicate a late addition to the big leagues is likely. He started a game just yesterday, and while he didn't finish the second inning, that would likely render him unavailable for the first couple of games of the series, which is certainly less than ideal. Lastly, at this stage, he probably just isn't different enough from Bryan Abreu (when each are throwing out of the pen) to warrant putting him in such a high leverage situation for his first taste of the big leagues. While I am more comfortable with Whitley's flavor of command issues than Abreu's in a playoff situation (game to game vs. pitch to pitch consistency), Abreu has the advantage of both big league and bullpen experience.

It won't happen, and I completely understand why, but at the same time, I think there's a real, if off-the-wall, argument to be made that he might be the best option at the team's disposal. Were I in the position to make the call, I'd probably have to opt for Abreu, but the thought of the Astros' potential future ace making his major league debut in the ALCS, making key outs against the Yankees, would be one that would tempt me.