Whitley's new strategy: Less work, more weight

February 16th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s not often you see players report to Spring Training enthusiastic about gaining 40 pounds from where they were a couple of years earlier. Tired of running out of gas midseason, Astros pitching prospect came to camp packing 230 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame and could be poised for a breakout season.

“I was just so skinny that by the time the season would reach like June or July, I wasn’t ready,” said Whitley, who weighed 190 pounds when he came to camp in 2018. “That showed in 2018; I got hurt quite a little bit.”

Whitley, the only Astros player ranked in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 (No. 19), shifted his workout routine to Phoenix this winter and took a different approach to years past. He worked out less and didn’t throw as much as in previous years and is curious to see how it helps him as the season moves forward.

“I think just the general thought process that went into that was just not coming into camp absurdly skinny like I had the past couple years,” he said. “I remember a couple years ago I came into camp at like 190, so I kind of wanted to lower the workload, eat a little bit more and focus on coming into camp at a little better weight.”

Two years ago, Whitley was working out six or seven times a week, sometimes twice a day. He said it was way too much. He cut the workout load down to just four times a week — Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday — and didn’t start throwing until December.

“Honestly, it was a lot nicer,” he said. “I got a little bit more time to myself. Played a lot more golf. It really felt like a true offseason to me, which was good for me in terms of the mental break from the season.”

After missing 50 games following a suspension and then suffering a pair of oblique injuries in 2018, Whitley’s 2019 didn’t go much smoother. Whitley, the No. 17 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, went a combined 3-7 with a 7.99 ERA with 44 walks and 86 strikeouts in four levels last year. He began the year at Triple-A Round Rock and had a 12.21 ERA in eight games (five starts) before being placed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue.

The Astros sent him back to the Gulf Coast League in July and he moved up to Class A Advanced Fayetteville before finishing the year with Double-A Corpus Christi. A second consecutive strong performance at the Arizona Fall League (2.88 ERA) followed, but he called 2019 the first on-field baseball adversity he’s faced in his life.

“Biggest thing was falling behind hitters, getting to 2-0 counts and making bad pitches behind the count,” he said. “Also, my usages were just a little off. At the worst of it, I think I was probably throwing like 75 percent fastballs. So that is just not a recipe for success right there.”

Barring any kind of setbacks, Whitley will begin the season at Round Rock for the second year in a row. There could be opportunity later in the season in Houston, where currently Josh James and Austin Pruitt are the forefront of the race for the No. 5 starter spot. Whitley’s time could be coming soon.

“I’m just treating this like Spring Training and getting myself ready for the 2020 season,” he said. “I’m not going to do too much too soon because I just don’t want to inhibit any of those chances on making the team.”