Top prospect Whitley among Astros' spring cuts

March 12th, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros made a third round of roster cuts on Tuesday that included most of the club's top pitching prospects, including right-handers Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas, and top outfield prospect Kyle Tucker.

Seven players were sent to Minor League camp. The two on the 40-man roster -- right-hander Rogelio Armenteros and Tucker -- were optioned, while five more were reassigned -- Bukauskas, Martin, Whitley, right-hander Brandon Bielak and infielder Alex De Goti.

Whitley has another Major League appearance on the horizon -- he'll pitch against the Cardinals at home on Friday.

The cuts were not a surprise. With Minor League seasons to prepare for and only so many innings available in Major League spring games, players not in the mix to crack the final 25-man roster were destined to move out of the Major League clubhouse once Minor League camp began.

"It wasn't like a big slap in the face," said Whitley, ranked as the No. 1 pitching prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline. "All of us saw it coming. We know 25 guys need to get ready for the season. It's the same with us. We just have to go back to the Minor League side, get our innings, get ready for our season, and hopefully help this team down the line."

All of the pitching prospects were impressive during their limited game action this spring. Whitley allowed six runs (two earned) over eight innings, while Martin allowed two earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. Bukauskas walked five and struck out eight over seven innings, allowing just one earned run.

The news that Tucker won't make the team out of Spring Training wasn't a shock, but it's perhaps a little jarring that his time in Major League camp is already over. The outfielder's fate was essentially sealed when the club signed Michael Brantley to a two-year contract during the offseason, but also, a relatively pedestrian spring showing from Tucker -- seven hits in 25 at-bats (.280), no homers, eight strikeouts -- made the difference between this being a more difficult decision for the club.

"I told him he has to keep working on some subtleties to take the next step," manager AJ Hinch said. "His swing improved over the last week, but he did struggle a little bit at times during this camp. I told him he's got to keep working toward making himself a better player so when he gets the next opportunity, he's ready to perform here. He took it well."

Big league opportunities may be scarce right now, but the experience can prove invaluable. Since president and general manager Jeff Luhnow took over the Astros' operation, the majority of non-roster invitees have been top prospects who are being groomed through the system, a practice less common with past regimes.

The intention is to immerse young players into a big league setting, give them exposure to how things work at that level and work them into game action that offers a slightly higher intensity level than they might find facing Minor League opponents.

Martin said he'd have to get out a notebook to fully explain everything he learned during his time in big league camp, but that his main takeaway centered around "throwing different pitches in different counts and trusting that."

"I'm still going to work on that, and it's still going to be something that I work on moving on," he added.