HOUSTON -- Forrest Whitley couldn't help but hear his name being thrown around in trade rumors on Wednesday afternoon as speculation began to increase that Houston was on the verge of acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh.The Astros are working on multiple possible trades, but general manager Jeff Luhnow told
HOUSTON -- Forrest Whitley couldn't help but hear his name being thrown around in trade rumors on Wednesday afternoon as speculation began to increase that Houston was on the verge of acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh.
The Astros are working on multiple possible trades, but general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com on Wednesday that no deal was in place and nothing was imminent. Whitley, the 20-year-old right-hander and Houston's top pitching prospect, is thought to be "untouchable" in terms of being included in possible trades, but that didn't stop his name from surfacing as a part of a possible package headed to the Pirates.
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"I'm not going to lie to you, I've been paying pretty close attention to it," Whitley said Wednesday during a stop on the Astros Caravan fan outreach tour. "It's got me on my toes, but that's out of my control. That's up to Jeff, that's up to people higher up in the Astros."
Astros owner Jim Crane said Monday the team is looking for a high-end starting pitcher to join Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton, and adding Cole would give Houston the deepest rotation in baseball to go along with the deepest lineup. At this point, a trade seems more likely than a free-agent signing.
The Astros are certainly unlikely to pay big free-agent dollars to Yu Darvish or Jacob Arrieta, but making a deal for an impact player could mean they would have to give up top prospect Kyle Tucker, an outfielder, or Whitley.
"It's very flattering," Whitley said. "It's an interesting situation, to say the least. You just kind of take it and roll with it, I guess."
Whitley, the Astros' first-round Draft pick in 2016 out of a San Antonio high school, started last year at Class A Quad Cities and finished at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he appeared in four games in the Texas League at 19 years old. He struck out a whopping 143 batters in 92 1/3 innings across three levels last year.
Whitley is likely to start the upcoming season in the rotation with the Hooks and could be invited to Major League camp as a non-roster player, where he could work alongside Verlander. He said he's been focusing on gaining some strength on his 6-foot-7 frame this offseason as opposed to focusing on conditioning a year ago.
"It's been going really well so far and I'm happy with my progress," he said.
Cole, 27, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft out of UCLA. A National League All-Star who won 19 games in 2015, Cole went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 33 starts last year for the 75-win Pirates, allowing 55 walks and 31 homers while striking out 196 batters in 203 innings. He's 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in 127 big league starts.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.