It has been another injury-wrecked season for former top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley. The right-hander was diagnosed with a lat strain at the start of June, an injury that initially came with a three-plus month recovery timetable.
Over the weekend, general manager Dana Brown indicated that Whitley was unlikely to return this season (link via Chandler Rome of the Athletic). Brown pushed back against the notion that the 25-year-old hurler had suffered a setback but conceded he hasn’t been able to “get over the hump” in his rehab.
Initially added to the 40-man roster before the 2021 season, Whitley has yet to get to the big leagues. He has spent the past three years on optional assignment to the minors, where he’d spent an unfortunate amount of time on the injured list. Most players can be optioned to the minors in a maximum of three separate seasons. After that, the team is required to keep the player on the major league roster or take him off the 40-man entirely (thereby making him available to other teams via trade or waivers). This is Whitley’s third option year.
However, Brown said the Astros will petition MLB for a fourth option season on Whitley (via Rome). That’s available in the case of players who have exhausted their options before logging five full professional seasons — defined as 90+ days on a minor league or MLB active roster. That’s a rare occurrence but sometimes applies to players who have missed extended time with injuries and/or suspension.
Whitley has missed chunks of minor league action for both reasons. He 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. It appears as though he won’t log any more game action this year, with his final appearance coming on May 25.
That’d seem to give the Astros a good shot of being granted an additional option, though the team won’t know for certain until the offseason. It’s not guaranteed he’ll be on the Houston roster next March regardless, as the Astros would have to keep him on the 40-man roster all offseason. Whitley’s prospect stock has plummeted thanks to the various injury concerns and performance questions during his intermittent game action. He was hit hard in 30 Triple-A innings this season, allowing a 5.70 ERA. He posted a solid 23.7% strikeout rate but walked almost 13% of opposing batters.