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Forrest Whitley in 2019? Stranger Things Edition

Arizona Fall League All Star Game Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Some of us are not ready to give up on the idea that Forrest Whitley is an elite prospect who can help the team in 2019. Okay, maybe just one of us. But as long as I called the DFA of Kemp, against popular opinion, I can indulge myself this exercise in speculation, which according to Jake Kaplan is useless.

Let’s review a bit about Whitley, the 2016, 1st round HS arm out of San Antonio. He pitched 18.2 innings the year he was drafted, and then came into 2017 ready to dominate, which he did across three levels. He’s basically the only HS arm to get to AA in his first full year that’s not already in the Hall of Fame. That’s how good his 2017 was, although maybe not every such case is in the Hall already. Here’s no exaggeration: in that year he threw 92 dominant IP, including 14 in AA, where he K’d 46% of the hopeless batters he faced across four appearances.

For 2018, he basically needed to do one thing to become the consensus #1 pitching prospect in baseball: not get hurt. Okay, one more thing: not get suspended. Unfortunately, Whitley suffered both fates in 2018, which was a lost season with a mere 26 IP. Except for the end of the season, when he so dominated the AFL that he still attained #1 pitching prospect status according to multiple outlets,

Coming into 2019, there was little question that Whitley had the stuff and the polish to contribute to the big league team. He said and did all the right things in spring training. But the same guy who dominated the Texas League at age 19 couldn’t get straight in the Pacific Coast League. After a nice debut on 4/9, he unraveled further with each start, and by the time he left for EST, his ERA was 12.25 and his WHIP was 2.05.

From May 23-July 11 he showed up in no box scores. Was he relocated to Welland island? On July 12th, against GCL competition he graduated from 3 years earlier, he gave up 3 ER and 3 BB in 1.2 innings. Seriously, Forrest! But he’s made his starts on schedule since then, and got moved to Fayetteville where he pitched on 7/24. The numbers weren’t great, but he made it into the 4th inning and threw 61 pitches, the most since his 5/10 start. Then, on 7/30, 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 9 K. That’s the Forrest we were waiting for. His dominance earned him a promotion to Corpus, where yesterday afternoon he threw 4 strong innings, one solo HR, 2 BB, 5 K and 69 pitches.

Could it be that he’s fixed? Now maybe Forrest falters, gets hurt, or misses a turn or two for some strange reason, but suppose he dominates the Texas league for the rest of this month and looks like the same guy who looked like our 3rd best pitcher last October? If Jeff Luhnow is trying to win a WS and Whitley looks like he could help, could he be an Astro in the next month? I say yes. What are the non-Forrest Whitley obstacles to the call-up?

In order to be eligible for the postseason, Forrest would have to be on the 40 man by August 31st. That 40 man currently houses Mayfield, Rodgers, Deetz, and Guduan. Those are guys who pass through waivers, as much as we love them. Room will need to be cleared in the offseason anyway, but he’s going to be in the 2020 picture, barring disaster. The truth is that the Astros minor-league depth is not what it once was, and I doubt our non-protected players will be raided as they had been. What about Super 2? That only applies to the top quintile of pre-arb players, and the cutoff is way past. It’s really a 2020 decision. What about service time? Given Forrest’s lack of innings build-up, he’s not going to spend all of 2020 in the majors, and they could simply delay his call up to manage his IP.

Look, maybe he’s a head case and they don’t want him disturbing clubhouse chemistry. But maybe he’s not, and they can get him the IP he needs at the MLB level, in September, during which time they build him up for 2020. In one month, when the Astros should have the division in hand, JV, Cole, and Greinke might benefit from a skip. Those three are 2nd, 3rd, and 7th in IP this year. They’re 6th, 10th, and 24th in batters faced. If Whitley is dominant this month, why not let him get his feet wet and take 3-4 turns in the rotation? After that, and maybe some BP stints, Luhnow can decide whether he improves the team’s postseason chances. In 2017, McCullers and Morton closed out series. It’s 2019, we have a shaky closer, three ailing BP arms (James, Peacock, and McHugh), plus their best reliever (Pressly) is on the IL.

Again, if Forest puts together another five strong starts this month, why not put him on the 40 man in August and call him up when the Texas League season ends? Let Forrest run.