How former top prospect could be even bigger piece of Astros 2023 puzzle

Astros Forrest Whitley
This could be the year Forrest Whitley makes his big league debut.Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Houston Astros took right-handed pitcher Forrest Whitley with their first round pick in the 2016 Draft. Coming out of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, he was expected to one day become a key piece in Houston’s rotation.

Nearly seven years later, Whitley has still not pitched a single inning for the Houston Astros at the major league level, but this year could finally be the one that sees him grab the symbolic brass ring and make it to the big leagues.

Whitley’s delay in reaching the majors has been due to various factors. Some of it has been because of a suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He has also had to deal with injuries, including the dreaded Tommy John Surgery.

To put some perspective on how long he has been in the Astros’ system, when he was first drafted, the Houston Rockets still had Dwight Howard on their roster before he left as a free agent to the Atlanta Hawks, the Texans had just signed quarterback Brock Osweiler to a multi-year deal, and the Astros were in the middle of a lackluster season following an exciting ALDS run the year prior.

During his time in the minors, Whitley has only played in 70 total games with a career 5.01 ERA. In 2022, he played in 13 games, 10 of which were for the Triple-A affiliate Sugar Land Space Cowboys. He had a 7.09 ERA in Sugar Land.

Despite all of that, Whitley finds himself on the Astros’ 40-man roster to begin 2023 spring training. At 25 years old, he is still among the youngest pitchers Houston has.

With news coming out of Florida that pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. is dealing with soreness in his elbow, it is a sobering reminder that a baseball season is a long, grueling marathon and not a sprint to October.

The Astros will open the 2023 regular season playing eight straight games without a break and when extended further will get in 13 outings in 14 days. During a stretch at the end of May and into June, Houston will play 17 straight games without an off day.

Last season, the Astros saw eight different pitchers start a game for Houston. The team had 22 different players throw a pitch over the course of the 162 games.

For Whitley, the opportunity to finally get a call-up to the majors has never been as close as it is this year, but it will all depend on his health and consistency.

He will likely start the 2023 year in Sugar Land, and with spring training games slated to begin this upcoming Saturday, the road to Minute Maid Park starts now for the former top prospect.

Everyone loves a good redemption arc, and Whitley has a chance to make his a reality. The Astros will eventually need to call up multiple players at some point in 2023 to pitch for them in the majors. It happens every year. Whether Whitley finally gets his, will be worth keeping an eye on.

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