MARCH 10: Manager Dusty Baker announced Wednesday that Whitley will undergo Tommy John surgery, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. He’ll miss the entire season as a result.
MARCH 7: Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley has been advised to undergo Tommy John surgery, according to Mark Berman of KRIV Fox 26 (Twitter link). Whitley has been battling arm soreness that has now been diagnosed as a right UCL sprain, the team told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link) and other reporters. No decision has yet been made about Whitley’s next step, as the right-hander is seeking a second opinion.
A 14-15 month layoff for TJ rehab would be the biggest setback yet in a career that has been hampered by injuries. Whitley also had an forearm problem last season that led to an early shutdown at the Astros’ alternate training site, and he has been sidelined with shoulder and oblique injuries in past years. Beyond just health woes, Whitley was also issued a 50-game drug suspension in 2018.
Despite all of these issues, Whitley’s potential is still so highly regarded that he has continued to remain a fixture on top-100 prospect lists over the last four years. Selected with the 17th overall pick of the 2016 draft, Whitley is still only 23 years old, as the Astros took the San Antonio native as a high schooler. Between the injuries and the suspension, however, Whitley has thrown only 197 innings as a professional from 2016-19, and just 24 1/3 frames at the Triple-A level. That brief stint at Triple-Round Rock didn’t pan out, as Whitley was torched for a 12.21 ERA with nine home runs allowed.
In the short term, the Astros were hoping Whitley would rebound from his lost season and look good enough to receive consideration for a MLB promotion at some point in 2021. Over the longer term, Whitley was seen as a bridge to the next generation of the Houston rotation, as Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers Jr. can all be free agents after the season (and Verlander will already miss all of 2021 due to his own Tommy John procedure). Framber Valdez’s season may also be in question thanks to a broken finger, which is why the Astros added some veteran stability through at least the 2022 campaign by signing Jake Odorizzi yesterday.