Whitley sits down six in impressive AFL start

September 22nd, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Pete Alonso played here last year. So did Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Two years ago, Ronald Acuña Jr. tore up the Arizona Fall League.

There have been close to 3,000 former AFL players make it to the Major Leagues, a list that includes 296 All-Stars, 19 Most Valuable Players and countless other award winners.

Right-handed pitcher , Houston’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, hopes to follow in their footsteps to the big leagues and make this second stint in the Arizona Fall League his last one.

“I’ve never really felt that far away [from the Major Leagues] since I’ve been in professional baseball,” Whitley said. “I’ve always had a pretty good handle on my stuff and how I work as a baseball player. As soon as I get a few things handled, a couple of small things, I feel like I will be ready to go."

Pitching for the Peoria Javelinas, the 17th overall prospect carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Mesa Solar Sox in his first AFL start. He struck out six and walked two batters in the 83-pitch outing.

“It was good. It was nice to have that feeling of pitching well again,” said Whitley, who was drafted by the Astros in the first round in 2016. “I didn’t have that a whole lot this year, but to be back out there and pitching well was really nice for sure.”

Whitley showed why the Astros love his potential. His fastball hovered in the 94-to-98-mph range with good command, and he kept the Solar Sox off balance with a steady dose of changeups and breaking balls for strikes.

“I had to adjust in [the] last couple of innings, and I moved to a different side of the rubber because the hole on the mound was pretty big, so I was just trying to avoid that altogether,” he said. “It was a little bit uncomfortable on that side of the rubber, but I got the job done and didn’t allow any runners to cross the plate.”

If Whitley looked uncomfortable, it didn’t show.

He retired the first two batters of the game and walked Detroit outfield prospect Jose Azocar. He went on to sit down the next nine batters in a row before hitting the Tigers' Isaac Paredes with a pitch and walking Brandon Marsh -- the Angels’ No. 2 prospect -- with two outs in the fourth.

Cleveland catching prospect Gavin Collins broke up the no-hitter with a single to lead off the fifth inning. Two outs later, Whitley was replaced by San Diego’s Reiss Knehr.

Whitley’s 2019 campaign was puzzling, plagued with inconsistency at Double-A and Triple-A. He was also slowed by shoulder fatigue. He finished the season with a combined 3-7 record and a 7.99 ERA in 59 2/3 innings at four levels, striking out 86 and walking 44.

“This time [in Arizona Fall League] is mostly just hashing out the flaws I had during the season, mostly putting guys on base via the walk,” Whitley said. “I’m just trying to control that game as much as I possibly can, and control the strike zone as much as I can.”

So far, so good.