The Astros have sent right-handed pitching prospect Forrest Whitley to the minor league injured list with shoulder fatigue, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle was among those to report. There’s no timetable for Whitley’s return. For now, he’ll head to the Astros’ Florida-based spring training facility to rehab.
For the majority of minor leaguers, an IL placement stays off the radar. The 21-year-old Whitley’s a special case, though, considering he’s a consensus top 10 prospect who could make a major league impact as early as this season. However, once he returns to action, Whitley’s performance in the minors will have to dramatically improve if he’s going to earn a promotion in the coming months.
Whitley, a first-timer at the Triple-A level this season, hasn’t looked ready for a call-up yet. In five starts and 24 1/3 innings at Round Rock, he has given up a whopping 33 earned runs on 35 hits, nine home runs and 15 walks (with 29 strikeouts).
General manager Jeff Luhnow doesn’t seem overly concerned, contending the hard-throwing Whitley’s “stuff,” velocity and spin look normal. In Luhnow’s estimation: “He’s not commanding it, he’s putting guys on base and allowing a lot of home runs. It’s a combination of probably the delivery, the pitch selection and a lot of different things that are going on. He’s had a bit of bad luck, too.”
The Astros are hopeful Whitley’s trip to the IL will give him a chance to hit the “reset” button, per Luhnow, who wants the hurler to “prove to us that he’s ready for an opportunity here if one presents itself.”
Houston’s 37-20 and in possession of one of the game’s most effective rotations, so it’s not exactly hard up for Whitley’s help. However, the Astros’ starting staff doesn’t look quite as infallible as it did over the previous couple seasons. Unsurprisingly, the losses of Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel and the injured Lance McCullers Jr. since 2018 have removed some of the bite from the team’s rotation.
Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole still make for an elite one-two punch, while Brad Peacock’s return to a starting role has worked out to this point. Wade Miley has outdone the 2018 version of Keuchel in terms of run prevention, though the former’s peripherals don’t align with his stingy 3.32 ERA. And rookie Corbin Martin, another of the Astros’ high-caliber pitching prospects, has stumbled over four starts since receiving his first MLB promotion May 11. Martin’s only in Houston’s rotation thanks to the performance- and injury-related issues that have haunted Collin McHugh this season.
Even if Whitley doesn’t join Martin in getting an audition in the Astros’ rotation this year, he could be in line for one in 2020. The team’s starting five is slated for plenty of upheaval after this season. Cole, Miley and McHugh may exit in free agency, which would leave the Astros looking for answers behind Verlander and perhaps Peacock and McCullers (if he’s back from Tommy John surgery). Whitley, Martin, Josh James and J.B. Bukauskas could represent a few other potential options in an organization with plenty of young pitchers.