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Astros to carefully manage top prospect Whitley

Touted right-hander not among NRIs, but still figures to see time in big league camp
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- Forrest Whitley, the hard-throwing right-handed pitcher the Astros drafted in the first round of the 2016 Draft, won't be in Major League camp when Spring Training opens in two weeks, but the club's top pitching prospect could get some limited Grapefruit League action.

Whitley, ranked the No. 9 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, wasn't among the 19 non-roster players the Astros invited to camp last week, though that's not abnormal. Whitley will pitch most of next year at 20 years old, and no Astros player taken in the 2016 Draft will be in big league camp.

HOUSTON -- Forrest Whitley, the hard-throwing right-handed pitcher the Astros drafted in the first round of the 2016 Draft, won't be in Major League camp when Spring Training opens in two weeks, but the club's top pitching prospect could get some limited Grapefruit League action.

Whitley, ranked the No. 9 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, wasn't among the 19 non-roster players the Astros invited to camp last week, though that's not abnormal. Whitley will pitch most of next year at 20 years old, and no Astros player taken in the 2016 Draft will be in big league camp.

That doesn't mean the Astros can't bring Whitley over from Minor League camp to throw an occasional inning or two in front of the big league staff.

"He's going to get some exposure in camp, but the reality is there's a good possibility Forrest Whitley will continue to progress and be an option for us late in the summer, and any time you can conserve some innings in February and March [that] you can deposit into September and October, that's a good thing," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I think that's part of what our thinking is. He had a lot of innings last year, but we really want to manage that so that he doesn't work himself out of being an option if we need him in the second half or down the stretch."

Luhnow has been steadfast in saying Whitley could reach the big leagues at some point this year, though the Astros have a loaded pitching rotation entering 2018. It's expected Whitley will start the year in the rotation at Double-A Corpus Christi, but he could move quickly.

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Whitley dominated at three Minor League levels last year despite pitching the entire season at 19 years old, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA, 34 walks, 78 hits and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) across 92 1/3 innings at Corpus Christi, Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities. Selected by the Astros with the 16th overall pick in the 2016 Draft, the 6-foot-7 right-hander led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94).

Outfielder Kyle Tucker, the 17th-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, will be in big league camp for the first time after appearing in a few Grapefruit League games last year while in Minor League camp. He was drafted in the first round in 2015.

"Those young high school guys, as they progress through our system, we want to give them exposure but not necessarily have them dive in in early February to the full-blown Major League camp," Luhnow said.

Among the Minor League pitchers to appear in a Grapefruit League game last spring were Riley Ferrell, Rogelio Armenteros, Jacob Dorris, Dean Deetz, Trent Thornton and Framber Valdez. They've all be invited to big league camp this year as non-roster players, though Deetz's 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance means he won't be at camp.

Not including Deetz, the Astros currently have 30 pitchers on their Spring Training roster.

"The main theme this year is we want to have enough guys so our primary position players and our primary pitchers that we're going to rely on don't have to ramp up quite as quickly because of the short offseason," Luhnow said. "There's going to be real opportunity for some of these non-roster guys and the guys just added to the roster to get a chance to help out and get some exposure during Spring Training. I can't predict who the fun stories are going to be this spring, but I guarantee there's going to be one or two."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros