The Runner Sports

A Call 2 Arms: Astros Promote Forrest Whitley And Cionel Perez To AA Corpus Christi

The Houston Astros, Saturday, promoted last year’s #1 draft pick and the Cuban prospect the Astros signed for $2 million last year to Class AA Corpus Christi. RHP Forrest Whitley, just 19, began the season in low Class A Quad Cities. Last year’s 17th overall draft pick pitched just 31.1 innings in Advanced-A Buies Creek, where he had a 3.16 ERA and struck out 14.4 batters per nine innings, leading all minor leaguers. Whitley also turned in a 1.18 WHIP and a 50:9 K/BB over seven games (six starts) for the BC Astros.

Left-hander Cionel Perez, 21, had a 2.84 ERA in only 25.1 innings for the Buies Creek Astros.

Again With the Trade Deadline

Whitley (the Astros’ #2-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline), along with Derek Fisher (#4) and Kyle Tucker (#1), was repeatedly one of the top prospects the Astros declined to part with before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Now, Whitley and Perez are reunited with outfielder Tucker, as all three continue their march toward the big leagues.

Houston GM Jeff Luhnow has come under repeated fire from fans, media, and even some players about his death-grip clutch on these (and possibly other) prospects. The resultant inability to close a deal for a top-notch starter or reliever is what may cause July 31 to be forever known, in Houston, as the 2017 Non-Waiver Trade Deadlock.

Related: Houston Acquires LHP Francisco Liriano As Only Deadline Deal

In Forrest Whitley, Help is on The Way…In a Year or Two

Whitley, a San Antonio Alamo Heights High School grad, is 5-4 in 19 appearances between full-season Quad Cities and A+ Buies Creek, this season, with a 3.01 earned-run average and 117 strikeouts in 77.2 innings, combined.

Astros Media Relations Manager, Steve Grande, tweeted this note, placing Whitley in some high cotton: “In the last 20 years, only 5 high school pitchers have advanced to Double A in their first full pro season: Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Dylan Bundy…and Whitley.

Josh Norris filed this recent note in this July 16, 2017, Baseball America piece regarding Whitley’s progression this year: “At 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, Whitley is simply a large human being. And like most large human beings who make their living pitching, Whitley is going to have to work hard to keep his limbs in order during his delivery. To aide this process, he’s pitched exclusively from the stretch over his last seven starts between low Class A Quad Cities and Buies Creek.

“Doing this, Whitley says, helps simplify his delivery and focus on better commanding his five-pitch arsenal:

“In the windup, it was something I was halfway comfortable with at the beginning of the season,” Whitley said. “(Pitching from the stretch) just kind of limits the movement a little bit. I’m a big guy, so I have a lot of moving parts. This helps me simplify things a little bit and makes it easier out there.”

In Houston, starter Brad Peacock (nowhere near as lanky as Whitley, at 6’1″, 210) has seen notable success moving exclusively from windup to stretch.

Related: Peacock Finally Pays Rotation Dividends

None other than Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan (an Astros executive advisor) was instrumental in scouting Whitley, having seen him on many occasions, and was one of many scouts who raved about Whitley’s make-up and competitive nature.

His pitch selection includes a plus fastball, a curve, and changeup. Scouts have compared Whitley to the similarly built Josh Johnson (6’7″, 250), formerly with the Padres, Toronto, and Miami, but currently in the Giants’ organization with the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels.

Mike Elias, the Astros’ assistant GM, scouting and player development, discussed Whitley just prior to the 2016 draft: “When you see a kid that long and lean be as coordinated, and able to repeat his delivery as well as he was, at the age of 18… that’s a big reason we took him with our first pick. We were really impressed with how he coordinates himself when he’s going down the mound. And he goes down the mound pretty aggressively.

“In high school, he was hitting 97-98 pretty steadily. He sits more in that 92-94 range, which is plenty, but seeing flashes of that extra velocity tells you the amount of arm strength that’s in there.”

And, on Whitley’s repertoire, Elias expounded: “He has both a two-seam and four-seam fastball. He’s able to work up in the zone with his four-seamer, and run the ball off the plate with his two-seamer. He has two distinct breaking balls — a slider and a curveball — and a changeup that, while not a finished product, is more polished than what you typically find with a high-school power pitcher.

“I think you’d get some debate on which of his breaking pitches are better — they’re both pretty good — but he does have a very good curveball. He throws it hard — it’s above 80 mph — and it’s got a real nice, tall, 12-to-6, or 11-to-5, shape when it’s right. If you’re an old-school pitching guy, you always like seeing a curveball first. There’s nothing like a great big curveball. For Forrest, it’s one of his calling cards.”

Southpaw Cionel Perez

Perez moves to Corpus with a combined 6-4 record and a 3.90 ERA in 17 appearances (13 starts) with Quad Cities and Buies Creek with 73 strikeouts in 80.2 innings.

Originally signed to a $5.15 million deal with Houston, the Havana, Cuba native’s contract was voided due to medical concerns about his left elbow, and was thus re-signed for $2 million in December 2016.

Interestingly, since Perez is signing with the team that previously voided his contract, the Astros will have to place him on the 40-man roster after this season if they want to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Had another team signed Perez, that would not have been the case. Perez signed with the Astros the day after the Rule 5 draft in ’16. If the Astros had signed him sooner, he would have been exposed to the upcoming Rule 5 draft, and Houston likely would have lost him.

In a remarkable physical contrast to Whitley, Perez is 5’11” and 170 pounds. He features a low-to-mid 90s fastball, with a slider and curveball, and a changeup that’s in-progress.

He made his 2017 debut with Quad Cities, turning in a 4.39 ERA with 17 walks and 55 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

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Brad Kyle