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Top prospect Whitley shows refinement in AFL

Right-hander using second Fall League stint to improve consistency and command
@JimCallisMLB
October 5, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Before the Arizona Fall League season began, Forrest Whitley stated that he wanted to use the developmental circuit to improve the consistency of his mechanics and command. So far, everything is going according to plan. Whitley recorded his third straight strong start for the Peoria Javelinas, blanking

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Before the Arizona Fall League season began, Forrest Whitley stated that he wanted to use the developmental circuit to improve the consistency of his mechanics and command. So far, everything is going according to plan.

Whitley recorded his third straight strong start for the Peoria Javelinas, blanking the Salt River Rafters for five innings in a 9-7 victory on Saturday afternoon. The Astros right-hander threw 56 of his 73 pitches for strikes and topped out at 98 mph with his fastball while allowing five hits and striking out six. He has surrendered just one run, eight hits and two walks in 14 1/3 innings, good for a 0.63 ERA, and he leads the Fall League with 20 strikeouts.

"I'm accomplishing all the goals that I initially set for myself in the Fall League," said Whitley, ranked No. 16 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. "I'm not putting guys on base via the walk, I'm limiting the amount of pitches per inning. Those were the main two goals."

Daily Astros updates | Peoria Javelinas roster & stats | Astros Top 30 prospects

Whitley also topped the AFL in strikeouts (36 in 26 innings) last offseason, when he was the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball. Expected to contribute to the Astros' pursuit of a second World Series championship in three years, he instead endured a disastrous 2019. He battled his command and missed seven weeks with shoulder inflammation while logging a combined 7.99 ERA with 86 strikeouts and 44 walks in 59 2/3 innings at four different levels of the Minors.

So instead of pitching in the playoffs, the 22-year-old Whitley is back in the Fall League and once again looking like someone who can help Houston in the very near future. Against Salt River, he worked at 93-96 mph with his four-seam fastball and had little difficulty throwing that pitch, his cutter and changeup for strikes. His breaking stuff was a little less reliable, as he was getting on top of his slider a bit too much and he had more success with his curveball, but both offerings sat in the mid-80s.

After Whitley's shoulder started bothering him early in the season, he focused on maintaining a better posture in his upper body. It took a while but he's finally comfortable with his new delivery.

"It was awkward coming back from that into full-season ball, just really inconsistent, walking a lot of guys," said Whitley, the 17th overall pick in the 2016 Draft as a Texas high schooler. "But the stuff was still there, so I kept working at it; working at it, and I'm coming into my own here with the new mechanics and throwing more strikes than I was. Now I don't even have to try to think about it, whereas two months ago I was really fighting bad habits."

Javelinas right fielder Jared Oliva (Pirates) went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a triple to improve his batting average to .425, taking the batting lead from Rafters designated hitter Victor Victor Mesa, who went 2-for-5 and is now hitting .407. Shortstop Jeremy Pena (Astros) and left fielder Jose Caballero (Mariners) both homered for Peoria off sliders from right-hander C.J. Carter (Marlins). Pena's blast traveled 388 feet with an exit velocity of 99 mph, while Caballero's went 383 feet with an exit velo of 105 mph.

Salt River right fielder Jerar Encarnacion (Marlins) launched a sixth-inning grand slam off Osvaldo Fernandez (Padres), a 403-foot blast with an exit velocity of 103 mph.

The Javelinas moved to 8-6 with the victory and climbed within a game of the first-place Surprise Saguaros in the West Division. The Rafters dropped to 9-5 but maintain a 1 1/2-game lead in the East.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.