WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros right-handed Minor League pitcher Forrest Whitley, the No. 9-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, has been suspended for 50 games without pay by the Commissioner's Office for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
The suspension of Whitley, who is currently on the roster of Double-A Corpus Christi, will be effective at the start of the 2018 Texas League season.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn't say what prompted the suspension.
"We're disappointed in the outcome," he said. "We support Major League Baseball's drug program, and we do everything we can to educate our guys and keep them from making decisions that results in suspensions. But in this case, as an organization, we're going to suffer a little bit. But we're still hopeful and optimistic Forrest is going to be a big part of our future."
Whitley, drafted No. 17 overall by the Astros in 2016, issued an apology through his agent, Matt Laird.
"I made a mistake and take full responsibility for my actions," he said. "I want to apologize to the Astros organization, my family and those closest to me. I will learn from this mistake and continue striving to be the best baseball player that I can be."
Whitley will come to Minor League camp as scheduled and work out in preparation for the Double-A season, Luhnow said. The earliest he could start his season is May 29 for Corpus Christi, which makes it less likely Whitley could get called up this year.
"He's a quality young man," Luhnow said. "The pitching side, he's going to continue to develop. This is part of maturity. When you're a high school player and get drafted and are a top prospect, there's a lot of pressure that goes along with that. And I don't know if that had anything to do with this, but there's a maturation process going from high school to the big leagues, and this is one step along for him.
"I'm fully confident, given how I know him and his character, he's going to bounce back and use this as a way to make himself stronger."
Whitley, the Astros' No. 1-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, wasn't among the 19 non-roster players that Houston invited to big league camp, though Luhnow said his looming suspension didn't play into that decision.
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 with 34 walks, 78 hits allowed and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) across 92 1/3 innings at Corpus Christi, Class A Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities. The 6-foot-7 right-hander led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94).
Last month, first baseman Jon Singleton -- the team's former No. 1 prospect who spent all of last season at Double-A Corpus Christi -- received a 100-game suspension without pay after a third positive test for a drug of abuse in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and right-hander Dean Deetz -- the team's No. 24 prospect according to MLB Pipeline -- received an 80-game suspension without pay for testing positive for Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, a performance-enhancing substance.