It was curious when Major League Baseball didn’t announce the drug that triggered top Houston Astros prospect Forrest Whitley’s 50-game suspension. It isn’t known why the drug wasn’t revealed, but sources suggest that a stimulant was detected in his system — though word is that the stimulant detected was unrelated to any performance enhancement or any attempt at performance enhancement.
The 50-game suspension suggests it was either a first-time stimulant detection or a second-time drug of abuse detection. Sometimes the number of games can be negotiated if there are complications or extenuating or mitigating circumstances. In some of the cases there may be a back story that provides further explanation about how the drug got into a player’s system.
Sometimes a stimulant can find its way into a player’s sample without any intent to improve performance, and that is apparently the case here, as people connected to the team say the issue was “not performance related.” Stimulants can sometimes be taken recreationally or even mistakenly, but it isn’t certain what the case was here. Whitley’s agent Casey Close didn’t return text messages, and MLB people declined to comment on the situation.
The fact that MLB didn’t announce what drug was found in Whitley’s sample suggests there were complications or an extenuating circumstance, and perhaps even a negotiation regarding how things would be resolved, possibly including what would be revealed in the announcement. In this case, none was revealed.
It isn’t known whether anything else was detected in the same, but a drug of abuse doesn’t trigger any suspension for a first-time offense, if indeed something was found. Whitley had a previously clean record.
Whitley, a former first-round draft choice, has properly apologized for his slip-up, and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow appropriately spoke about the mistake that was made. Whitley is a big-time prospect, and Luhnow didn’t even preclude the possibility he could still make it to the majors by year’s end, though presumably a 50-game absence to start the year will diminish those chances, at least by a bit.
Whitley shot up the prospect ranking list with a huge season last year in which he struck out 14 batters per nine innings across three different levels (A, A+, Double-A). Overall, he posted a 2.92 ERA last season over 92.1 innings that spanned 23 appearances and 18 starts, including a sterling 1.84 mark in 14.2 Double-A innings.
Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America both have Whitley ranked as baseball’s 10th-best prospect; MLB has him a spot higher at No. 9.