BUIES CREEK, N.C.—It’s not a surprise to hear that a prospect upped his draft stock at the Tournament of Stars, an annual event held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., during the summer showcase season.
If a prospect performs well there, he’ll get noticed by the hundreds of scouts, executives and media members gathered to watch the event. In righthander Forrest Whitley’s case, a little bit of instruction helped him improve the quality of one of his pitches.
Under the tutelage of Shaun Cole, now a manager in the Padres’ system and former director of USA Baseball’s 18U National Team, Whitley changed the grip on his changeup. He went from using a two-seam grip to a four-seam version of the pitch, and the results have been phenomenal.
“My mentality with the changeup is to throw it with fastball intent and to get as much sidespin as possible,” Whitley said. “I guess it just works for me. I have a little bit longer fingers than normal, so I’m able to roll it off the side a little bit better to generate that sidespin a little bit better. That’s been a really, really solid pitch for me the past two years. It’s been constantly developing and it’s finally coming together.”
The Astros took Whitley with their first-round selection a year later, and he made it to high Class A Buies Creek in his first full season. On Saturday night against Frederick, with a handful of high-level scouts watching in advance of this month’s non-waiver trade deadline, Whitley was brilliant. He struck out 10 over 5.2 shutout innings, including two apiece in each of the first five innings. He allowed just three hits and walk during the outing.
In three starts with Buies Creek, Whitley has pitched 15.2 innings, allowed only one run on eight hits, walked two and struck out twenty-four.
“He seems like he made some pretty good adjustments in Quad Cities over the last four starts, and over here he’s been doing a tremendous job,” Buies Creek manager Omar Lopez said. “He’s commanding his pitches and using his secondary pitches to put hitters away.”
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.”
And while his changeup—a low-80s offering with intense fade away from lefthanders thrown from the same arm slot as the rest of the arsenal—the rest of his pitches were impressive too. His fastball sat in the low-to-mid-90s, touched as high as 96 and and at times featured explosive life in on the hands of righthanders. He also mixed in a low-90s cutter as well as an impressive slider in the mid-80s and a 12-to-6 hook.
The five-pitch mix is actually a trimmed down repertoire from his high school days, when he threw a second curveball and a split-fingered fastball as well.
Buies Creek’s previous staff ace, righthander Franklin Perez, was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi after his last outing. With his third straight dominant start, Whitley has picked up where Perez left off.