Top prospect Whitley could join September mix

RHP close to returning from oblique injury at Double-A

July 28th, 2018

HOUSTON -- The Astros hope to have the conversation about right-hander Forrest Whitley's Major League debut in September.

Among the many different looks the Astros' roster could have in the final month of the regular season, there's a version of the defending World Series champions that could feature Whitley, the club's top prospect according to MLB Pipeline's latest rankings.

Whitley was placed on the Minor League disabled list July 9 with a strained oblique and was originally expected to miss several weeks.

"He's progressing well and we are expecting him to be back on the original time frame," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said on Friday. "He'll be back. He'll be pitching. Hopefully he'll be pitching well and be a guy that we can at least have a conversation about to bring him up here in September."

, the Astros' highly regarded rookie outfielder and No. 2 prospect who Luhnow believes will be a "cornerstone" in the clubhouse for the future, is batting .154 with six hits in 43 big league plate appearances since his debut July 7.

MLB Pipeline released the updated re-rankings for the Astros' top 30 prospects this week. Some notes:

• The organization has three players ranked in the top 100 overall prospects: Whitley (No. 7), Tucker (8) and outfielder Yordan Alvarez (42).

• No. 4 prospect , who was optioned Friday to make room for incoming reliever following a trade with the Twins, made four relief appearances for the Astros after his debut on July 11.

• The biggest jump? Right-hander Josh James, a Triple-A Fresno pitcher who went from unranked to No. 6 in the Astros' farm system.

• The biggest drop? Hard-throwing righty went from No. 8 to 23. Paulino made nine career appearances split from 2016-17 with the Astros before being dealt an 80-game suspension last season for performance-enhancing substance use. Paulino was recently sent from Triple-A to the Astros' Gulf Coast League affiliate, a stint that began in early June.

Hinch featured speaker at luncheon

Astros manager AJ Hinch was the special guest and featured speaker at an annual luncheon on Saturday that awards scholarship funds to local student athletes who are either heading to college or already in the middle of their college careers.

The Texas Italian American Sports Foundation has been awarding scholarships since 1982, and to date, more than $600,000 has been distributed. That includes $19,000 this year, awarded to athletes from a variety of sports, including baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football, volleyball and swimming.

Speaking to the student-athletes about setting goals, Hinch remembered a conversation he had with Astros second baseman prior to the 2015 season, soon after Hinch was hired.

Altuve, Hinch recalled, told him he's a "goal-oriented guy." He told Hinch he'd won a batting title, and a Silver Slugger Award, but never a Gold Glove and never a World Series.

"I said, 'OK, well, let's do both,'" Hinch said.

Altuve won the Gold Glove in '15, and the Astros, of course, won the championship two years later.

"This team really does want to do special things," Hinch said. "We're going to see different managers come through, different players come through, different coaches come through. But what doesn't change is when we wear the Astros' uniform, what it should mean to the players, the coaches, the fans. Now the bar is set for winning, and hopefully it's that way for the next decade plus."

Several Astros personalities attended the luncheon, including former TV broadcaster Bill Brown, who emceed the event, radio announcer Robert Ford, television announcer Todd Kalas and AT&T SportsNet reporter/host Julia Morales. The guest list also included Enos Cabell, who currently works for the Astros, and Tim Purpura, former GM of the club.

The event also honored the memory of longtime TIASF supporter Dennis Liborio, the former Astros clubhouse manager who passed away this week. A segment of the scholarships were named after him, and the organization has set up a fund to donate to the program in his memory at