It was difficult to predict where the Astros would go with their first selection in the 2021 draft, as 86 players were set to come off the board before they’d come on the clock. Most who tried to hazard a guess as to where they were looking pointed towards the pitcher side, but the Astros ended up zagging to select Nevada prep bat Tyler Whitaker instead, a tools-first prospect who most expected to come off the board a bit earlier. A product of storied Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas, which produced Bryce Harper and Joey Gallo, Whitaker is a former infielder who converted to the outfield as an upperclassman.
A terrific all-around athlete, Whitaker has plus wheels at present, but projects to be carried primarily by his power. The pop really hit another gear in 2021, which sparked a rise in draft rankings- as high as the top 50 for some outlets, including MLB Pipeline. Despite already tipping the scales at 195 lbs., Whitaker’s 6’4” frame offers plenty of projectability, and he’ll most likely pack on strength and slow down a bit as a pro. As a result, most evaluators have him projected for right field in the long term, but he’ll probably get plenty of run in center early in his career. Should he end up in right, he projects as a potentially above average defender there- he was a very accomplished pitcher as a prep player as well, and has the plus arm strength you’d expect of a player with that background.
The raw power also grades out as plus, so it’s a bit curious to see him slip this far down the board since the consensus had him closer to the second round range. If there’s a hole to be poked in the profile, it’s the hit tool, which has been inconsistent for him at the prep level. It’s a power oriented cut, and there are concerns about just how well he covers the plate. He’s also not as adept against breaking stuff as some of his peers are at this point, so there’s certainly some risk involved as far as making contact is concerned, but the rest of the toolkit takes some pressure off of the bat. There are certainly a wide range of possibilities with this type of prospect, but the high side outcomes are worth getting excited about.
While he’s a bit of a polarized prospect, Whitaker represented an excellent value for Houston at 87th overall, where any player on the board is going to have some notable downsides to consider. He’ll instantly become one of the higher-ceiling position players in a system which has seen a bit of a resurgence on that side of the ball in 2021, and has the physical talent to continue to rise considerably.