Minor League Baseball will be without one of its top pitching prospects at the start of the 2018 season.
Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley has been suspended 50 games for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced Wednesday morning. The exact nature of the violation was not disclosed.
The 20-year-old hurler is ranked as MLB.com's No. 9 overall prospect after a stellar 2017 campaign that saw him climb three levels. After going to Houston with the 17th pick in the 2016 Draft, Whitley posted a 2.83 ERA with 143 strikeouts and 34 walks over 92 1/3 innings between Class A Quad Cities, Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi in his first full campaign. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said earlier this week that the club had been so impressed with the youngster's progress that they considered bringing him up for its playoff run last September, according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart.
"We're disappointed in the outcome," Luhnow told MLB.com. "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."
2018 Minor League suspensions
Whitley's arsenal includes four potentially above-average pitches, headlined by a fastball and curveball that each received 65 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale from MLB.com. The 6-foot-7 hurler was especially successful after moving to the stretch full-time last season, an alteration that helped with his control. Because of his combination of size, stuff and control, Whitley ranks behind only Shohei Ohtani among MLB.com's top pitching prospects.
The Texas native was slated to return to Corpus Christi to begin 2018 but won't join the Hooks until late May, at the earliest, following the suspension.
"I made a mistake and take full responsibility for my actions," Whitley said in a statement released by his agent. "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 is the 25th Minor Leaguer to receive a drug-related suspension in 2018.