Astros minor league pitcher Forrest Whitley has been diagnosed with a lat strain and will miss between three and four months, the club announced today (relayed by Chandler Rome of the Athletic). That timetable puts his 2023 campaign in jeopardy.
It’s the latest brutal blow for a player who was once among the sport’s top prospects. Whitley was a first round draftee in 2016 and looked like a potential top-of-the-rotation starter early in his pro career. Baseball America ranked the 6’7″ hurler among the sport’s ten most promising minor leaguers in both 2018 and ’19.
Things have unfortunately gone sharply downhill since then. Whitley was suspended for a violation of the minor league drug program in 2018, keeping him to eight starts that year. He battled shoulder issues the next season, then was kept out of game action by the pandemic cancelation of the minors in 2020. Whitley underwent Tommy John surgery in Spring Training 2021 and only returned towards the tail end of last season.
Whitley opened this year back in Triple-A Sugar Land. He surrendered a 5.70 ERA over 30 innings while struggling to throw strikes. Whitley’s 23.7% strikeout rate was solid but he walked nearly 13% of opposing hitters. He’s had scattershot command the past few years, though that’s not especially surprising since the injuries have prevented him from staying on the mound consistently.
The Astros added Whitley to the 40-man roster after the 2020 season to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. He has still yet to reach the majors. This is his third minor league option year. Most players can only be sent to the minors in three separate seasons before being exposed to waivers. Exceptions are sometimes made for players who’ve spent a significant chunk of time on the injured list, however. Whitley would seem a prime candidate for a fourth option. That likely won’t be known until next offseason.
Houston will have to weigh whether it’s worth keeping Whitley on the 40-man regardless. They could clear a spot in-season by placing him on the MLB 60-day IL and paying him a major league salary for time spent rehabbing. There’s no injured list over the offseason and Whitley will be five years removed from the peak of his prospect stock if he doesn’t return this season.