Spring training games have begun, meaning that March 28 is getting closer and closer. Despite “never settling” last year, the Astros are looking to “take it back” in 2019. Marwin Gonzalez has moved on to the Twins, and Dallas Keuchel is still trying to find a new home. With three-fifths of the rotation from 2018 gone or injured, the Astros will have to depend on some young starters this year.
Collin McHugh is transitioning back to the rotation after an impressive 2018 in the bullpen. Wade Miley was signed to be the fourth starter, essentially replacing Keuchel as the lefty ground ball specialist. They both will join the strong 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The only drama left for the rotation: How much can Brett Strom improve Miley, and who is the fifth starter?
Who is the fifth starter?
The favorites for the fifth starter are Framber Valdez, Josh James, or dark-horse candidate Brad Peacock. Valdez showed promise in his first start of the spring, but it is way too early to declare a winner yet. With James having a minor quad strain and McHugh leaving yesterday’s game with some minor back pain, Valdez could have an inside track to getting the spot. But Brady Rodgers could pitch his way into the back of the rotation.
There are also several young arms that are impressing in Corbin Martin, Brandon Bailey, and Rogelio Armenteros. Brady Rodgers had a successful start as well, as he continues to return from Tommy John surgery. There are many options, but all eyes are on one pitcher. No matter how well he pitches this spring, he’s not likely to make the opening day roster. But he is one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
Enter the Forrest?
Forrest Whitley made his first appearance of 2019 on Monday and looked great. In two innings, Whitley struck out three hitters. His command was excellent, and he looked like the untouchable prospect the Astros think he is. As easy as it is to get excited, we may have to wait until the Super 2 cutoff sometime in June to see him make his MLB debut. All he can do is show AJ Hinch what he can do the Spring and wait for his name to get called.
Imagine a possible playoff rotation that has Verlander, Cole, Whitley, and McHugh. Like Kyle Tucker, the Astros have high hopes in Whitley. So high that they refused to include him in any trade package, likely including JT Realmuto. The biggest goal the Astros have this year is finding a way to limit/manage Whitley’s innings pitched to save him for October. In his minor league career, he has only thrown a total of 137 ⅓ innings in three years (via Baseball Reference).
His previous high is 92 ⅓ innings pitched in 2017 between three levels. The Astros will be cautious with his usage before he makes his debut, and his suspension last year hindered his progress a little. Maybe they only pitch him 4-5 innings at the beginning of the year in Triple-A. He could be the Astros’ Walker Buehler this year in the playoffs, but there is a long way to go before then. Until then, just sit back and enjoy watching him pitch.