The Astros graded Whitley as the best high school pitcher in the 2016 Draft and signed him for $3,148,000 as the 17th overall pick, the sixth prep arm selected that June. He reached Double-A during his first full pro season, a rare feat for a high schooler, but he totaled just 86 regular-season innings the next two years. A 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League drug program plus minor oblique and lat injuries limited him in 2018, then shoulder inflammation and command issues sabotaged his 2019 season.
Though consistency can be an issue, Whitley has five pitches that grade as plus or better when they're working. He can cut or sink a fastball that usually ranges from 92-97 mph, and hitters can't try to sit on it because his changeup has fade and depth and ranks as one of the best in the Minors. His downer curveball and late-biting, mid-80s slider both feature high spin rates, and he can morph the latter into a low-90s cutter that may be better than either of his breaking balls.
The quality of Whitley's stuff and his ability to harness it varied throughout 2019, though he rebounded to lead the Arizona Fall League in strikeouts for the second straight season. He altered his mechanics to maintain better posture with his upper body, in hopes that will reduce stress on his shoulder and allow him to throw more strikes. If he can maintain average control and command, his stuff will make him a star.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 60 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 65 | Control: 50 | Overall: 60
The Astros rated Whitley as the best high school arm in the 2016 Draft and were thrilled that he lasted until they picked at No. 17, where he signed for $3,148,000 as the sixth prep pitcher selected. In 2017, he averaged 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings and joined Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Dylan Bundy as the only high school first-rounders this millennium to pitch in Double-A during their first full pro season. His encore wasn't as successful, as he worked just 26 1/3 regular-season innings because of a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League drug program and minor oblique and lat injuries.
Whitley got more work in the Arizona Fall League, where he was the developmental circuit's strikeout leader and showed why he's considered the best pitching prospect in baseball. He can make hitters look bad with his entire repertoire, starting with a 93-98 mph fastball with natural life (heavy sink down or cutting action up in the zone) and a devastating changeup with fade and depth. He has a pair of high-spin, power breaking balls with a 12-to-6 curveball and a late-biting slider, and he can turn the latter into a true cutter in the low 90s.
Whitley has endured a puzzling 2019 season during which the quality of his stuff has fluctuated at times, and even so he got hit much harder than he should have in his first taste of Triple-A. His command has never been particularly sharp and has regressed this year, with scouts from other organizations raising questions about his focus and maturity. He still has the upside of a dominant No. 1 starter but hasn't looked like one as often as he had in the past.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 65 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 60
The Astros rated Whitley higher than any high school pitcher in the 2016 Draft and got him at No. 17 overall -- the sixth one selected -- for a $3,148,000 bonus. Now the top-rated pitching prospect in baseball, he averaged 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017 and joined Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Dylan Bundy as the only prep first-round arms this century to advance to Double-A in their first full pro season. He missed the start of this season after drawing a 50-game suspension in February for violating the Minor League drug program, then picked up right where he left off after he returned in June.
Whitley can miss bats with all four of his pitches. His best is his fastball, a nasty combination of velocity (92-97 mph), cutting and running action plus steep downhill plane. After doing a terrific job as a high school senior of trimming what had been a soft body, he has room to add more strength and could throw harder once he does.
Whitley backs up his heater with a hard 12-to-6 curveball, a power slider that flashes late bite and a fading changeup that he already trusts. Though he has good body control for a young pitcher with a huge frame, Houston had him pitch exclusively out of the stretch at times last season to have him focus on repeating his delivery. He already does a nice job of throwing strikes and should become an ace if he can refine his command.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 55
Whitley stood less than 6 feet tall and had a mid-70s fastball when he entered Alamo Heights HS (San Antonio) in 2012, then grew to 6-foot-7 with a low-90s heater by the spring of his sophomore year. He starred on the high school showcase circuit and with the U.S. national-18-and-under team after his junior season, then dropped 25 pounds and looked better than ever as a senior. The Astros liked him as much as any high school pitcher in the 2016 Draft and were delighted to select him 17th overall and sign him for $3,148,000.
Whitley projects to have four solid-or-better pitches, starting with a 92-95 mph fastball that tops out at 97, could have more velocity to come and features cutting and running action. He has a power curveball that peaks in the low 80s with good depth and tight spin, and he can turn it into a mid-80s slider when he wants. He has an advanced changeup for a pitcher fresh out of high school and already trusts it.
Though Whitley has good body control for a youngster with an extra-large frame, the Astros still are having him pitch exclusively out of the stretch to help him repeat his delivery. He'll have to watch his weight, but he recognizes the importance of conditioning after firming up his previously soft frame helped his Draft stock soar. He has drawn physical comparisons to former National League ERA leader Josh Johnson, but is more advanced at the same age.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 60 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 55
High school pitching was the strength of the 2016 Draft, and if the Astros had their pick of any of the prep arms, they might have taken Whitley -- who was still available when they exercised the 17th overall choice. A sub-6-footer with a mid-70s fastball when he entered Alamo Heights High (San Antonio), he grew to 6-foot-7 and a low-90s fastball by the time he was a sophomore and continued to improve. After impressing on the showcase circuit and with the U.S. national 18-and-under team following his junior season, he dropped 25 pounds and was spectacular as a senior.
Signed for $3,148,000, Whitley has a deep arsenal that begins with a 92-97 mph fastball that features cutting action at the lower end of that range and running life at the upper end. He has a power curveball that reaches the low 80s with tight spin and good depth, and he can vary it into a harder slider at times. He has upgraded the quality of his changeup and his trust in the pitch, which drops at the plate and could give him a third plus pitch.
For a big teenager, Whitley has good body control and does a fine job of repeating his relatively easy delivery. Scouts liked how he took it upon himself to better his conditioning and firm up his previously soft frame. He's built like Josh Johnson but is more advanced than the 2010 National League ERA leader was at the same stage.