HOUSTON -- Forrest Whitley had shot to 6-foot-7 by the time he was a junior in high school in San Antonio, and he had four pitches, including an effective changeup, which had put him on the scouting map. When he got on the scale while pitching for Team USA in Japan last summer and weighed in at 263 pounds, he knew something had to change.
Realizing his potential to be a big-time pick in the MLB Draft, Whitley went on a diet and wound up dropping nearly 70 pounds for his senior season. He went 9-1 with a 0.31 ERA at Alamo Heights High School this spring, striking out 126 batters in 68 innings to set himself up to be taken No. 17 overall by the Astros in the 2016 MLB Draft.
The Astros signed Whitley on Wednesday, introducing the lean and confident 18-year-old to the media at Minute Maid Park a few days before he heads to the Gulf Coast League to begin his big league career. He received a $3.148 million bonus, according to MLB.com's Jim Callis, which is well above the slot value of $2,504,200 for that pick.
"It's been a bit overwhelming, but it's just been nice to kind of relax and sit back with my family after the high school season," Whitley said. "I'm just ready to get started now and am focused on that."
The Astros were drawn to Whitley by his size, his polish and fluid motion. Scouting director Mike Elias said he'll likely get some professional innings under his belt in the GCL this summer.
"Forrest is somebody we view as a really premium talent in this draft class," Elias said. "He's a tall right-handed pitcher with power stuff. He's got a fastball that gets up to 97 [mph], pitches in the 93-94 range. He's got two breaking balls that our scouts view as above-average pitches -- an overhand curveball and more of a slider -- and he also has a really polished changeup, which for us, when we're evaluating a high school kid, that's a pretty special thing to come across."
Whitley admitted that, coming into high school, he was "unathletic," though he grew 5-6 inches his freshman year before blowing up to 263 pounds as a junior. He worked out more and stuck to a diet of lean proteins and greens to shed the weight and get in better shape.
"I knew I had to lose some weight to be able to perform to the best of my ability," he said. "I handled that and I lost maybe a little bit more than I liked. I tried to put some back on. For me it's helped my performance a ton, and I'm happy with where I'm at right now."
Whitley wasn't an Astros fan growing up, despite living within a three hours' drive of Minute Maid Park, which he stepped foot inside for the first time Wednesday. He patterned his mechanics after Hall of Fame right-hander Nolan Ryan, who watched him throw a no-hitter earlier this year while scouting Whitley for the Draft. He idolized Tim Lincecum and, thus, became a Giants fan.
He's all in for the Astros now and still has the same big league dreams he's had since he was young.
"It's always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid," he said. "It was a little far-fetched at that time when I was younger, but the last couple of years it's really become a reality, and it's been a fun process."
In addition to Whitley, the Astros also signed six more players taken in the 2016 MLB Draft: catcher Raymond Henderson-Lozano (22nd round), infielder Troy Sieber (24th), LHP Nathan Thompson (27th), OF Chaz Pal (38th), IF Tyler Wolfe (39th) and RHP Lucas Williams (40th).
The Astros have signed 26 of their 40 selections from the 2016 Draft, including nine of the club's top 10 selections. The only pick in the Top 10 rounds not to yet sign is seventh-round selection Tyler Buffett, an Oklahoma State pitcher who's playing in the College World Series.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.