In the third inning of the Texas Class 5A State semifinal in early June, news started swirling around Dell Diamond in Round Rock. Alamo Heights senior Forest Whitley, the San Antonio native who was on the mound, had been drafted 17th overall by the Houston Astros. Soon after the selection, Forrest's father, Matt, quickly ran towards the dugout and alerted a teammate, who then relayed the message to the newly drafted pitcher.
“I saw my dad come down from the stands, and I had told him I wanted to know when I got drafted as soon as possible,” said Forrest. “There wasn’t any initial shocked reaction because we were in the middle of the game, so I had to maintain focus on that. After the game, it was pretty overwhelming. It was kind of mayhem, but after things settled down, it sunk in.”
Less than two weeks later, Forrest signed his contract and received a $3.148 million bonus, then reported to the Astros Gulf Coast League affiliate in Kissimmee, Florida.
The draft overlapping his school's first ever trip to the state tournament resulted in a unique situation. However, Forrest made it all happen well before he stepped on the field on that unforgettable night in Round Rock, Texas.
How He Got Here
When Forrest began playing baseball, getting drafted wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. In fact, Whitley quit at the age of nine, only to come back at 10 because he missed playing.
“The reason he played was because his brother, Preston, played, and Forrest wanted to be just like his brother,” said their father, Matt. “At that time it seemed unlikely because he was kind of chubby and unathletic, and he wasn’t real focused on doing it, but he just wanted to do it.”
Instead of doing everything they could to get Forrest drafted, like they did with Preston, his parents decided they’d stand back and allow Forrest to make things happen. Forrest took it upon himself to make sure he had every chance to improve. He begged his dad to play travel baseball, and at age 14, asked if he could take lessons with Trinity University pitching coach David Smith.
This past summer, Forrest was invited to play for the United States’ 18U Team. At the Tournament of Stars, a round-robin in which 108 of the nation’s best players are invited to face each other, Forrest started standing out.
“The amount of talented 17- and 18-year-old players blew me away,” said Matt Whitley. “I watched all the pitchers, and it finally dawned on me that my son might be the best guy here.”
Whitley went on to make the national team and won the gold medal at the World Baseball Softball Confederation World Cup in Osaka, Japan. Coming back from Osaka, Whitley weighed 263 pounds. He decided that to reach his full potential, his eating habits had to change.
“The diet’s changed from going out to eat seven days a week to eating more home-cooked meals that my mom makes,” said Forrest. “I’ve always done the training, but I’d work out really hard, and then I’d be at the Whataburger drive thru an hour later.”
The results are hard to miss, as Forrest now weighs 220 pounds and stands at 6’7”. He holds a commanding presence on the mound, with his fastball sitting in the low to mid 90s, topping out at 97 mph.
“The first thing that grabs you is obviously that big frame of his,” said Forrest’s high school coach, Jason Thompson. “With the casual fan, that might be where it stops. To me, we’ve got an 18-year-old player who can repeat mechanics, and he has the ability not just to throw the ball, but to pitch.”
Thinking about the Draft As Whitley began to dominate high school, universities began to notice. In September of 2014, Whitley received 27 Division I offers. Still not thinking the draft was in his future, Whitley committed to Florida State University. However, as he participated in events such as the Under Armour All-America Game, Whitley started to envision all the possibilities for his future.
“Over the summer I found myself competing with the top guys in the nation, and I was getting them out,” said Forrest. “My stuff was on par with everyone else’s who was highly ranked, and I started to get a lot more attention, so that’s when I really started to realize I had a chance.”
Although Whitley began to garner more attention, his mind was still set on college. It wasn’t until recently, when scouts swarmed every start, and projections had him going in the first round, that the draft became a real possibility for the family.
“The thought of not going to college, I mean I couldn’t even accept the thought process,” said Matt Whitley. “Forrest and I did a lot of research. If you’re a first-round pick, and you’re a pitcher, the stats are very much in favor of you need to go, and go to college when you’re done playing.”
Earlier this year, Forrest broke his thumb and missed a few games at the beginning of the season. When he returned, he dazzled the dozens of scouts who came to every game. Including the state semifinal game, Forrest went 10–1 with a 0.28 ERA, and he struck out 137 batters in 74.2 innings.
“The biggest thing for me is watching his mental game develop,” said Thompson. “His ability to compartmentalize, and be focused on the task at hand is really exceptional. Every time the kid throws a pitch, the radar guns go shooting up. That would absolutely terrify most people, but it’s no big deal to him.”
Everything Forrest had worked for culminated in one night. At the same time he was pitching in his school’s first state tournament appearance, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called his name in the draft.
Whitley began playing baseball to be like his brother. After pitching his team to a win to qualify for the state final (where the team later lost), it was fitting that it was his brother, Preston, who presented Forrest with an Astros T-shirt and hat on the field. It capped off a memorable end to his high school career while marking the beginning of his pro career.
“It was special getting it from my brother,” said Forrest. “It’s a moment that I’ll never forget.”
Photographs (from top): Jill Cacic/Round Rock Express; Mary Candee