Iíve received several emails in the last couple of weeks asking about Houston Astros prospect Jordan Lyles, wanting to know if heís a good fantasy investment for 2011. I think heís worthy of a larger profile, so here it is.
Next week we will have the end-of-regular-season version of the Rotowire Top 100 Prospects list, so stay tuned for that.
Jordan Lyles was considered a top high school pitching prospect in Hartsville, South Carolina, entering the 2008 draft season. But some spotty early spring performances, plus an apparently strong commitment to the University of South Carolina, kept him from high-round consideration by most teams. Astros scouts, however, did their homework well, getting a better read on his signability than most other teams, and working him out in front of club officials with positive results. They picked him in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft, 38th overall, and were able to sign him for $930,000. After a strong pro debut in the Appy League that summer, he showed outstanding poise and command in the South Atlantic League in 2009, then jumped all the way to Double-A in 2010, pitching very well in the Texas League at age 19. A late trial in Triple-A wasnít great statistically, but impressed enough people that some consideration was given to promoting him this September. That didnít happen, but the fact that it was even considered just two years after he was drafted shows what kind of prospect heís become.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Lyles is a 6-foot-4, 185-pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born October 19, 1990. Heís quite athletic and was also a skilled wide receiver in high school, although he preferred the diamond to the gridiron. He has clean and easy mechanics, hitting 93-94 MPH on his best days and usually working right around 90-91. If he fills out his body and adds some strength, his velocity should get more consistent at the upper boundary. His curveball and changeup have progressed rapidly as a pro, giving him three major league pitches. Although Lyles had command issues in high school, in pro ball heís been a consistent strike-thrower, changing speeds well and keeping hitters off-balance, although he also can reach back for the key strikeout when needed. His mound presence and emotional maturity are outstanding for his age, and he deals with adversity well. Heíll give up a few homers when he hangs a breaking ball, but the gopher tendency is not excessive. Left-handed hitters gave him some problems during his Triple-A exposure, but his platoon splits have been close to even at other levels, and his ability to locate his arsenal for quality strikes helps a lot. Heís had no significant injury worries.
Lyles posted a 3.24 ERA with a 167:38 K:BB in 145 innings in Low-A in 2009, allowing 134 hits. The K:IP and K:BB ratios were outstanding, and they didnít slip much this year: 3.12 ERA with a 115:35 K:BB in 127 innings in the Texas League, with 133 hits. The K/9IP and hit rate slipped some, but his profile was still very impressive considering his youth and the fact that he skipped a level. His home park at Corpus Christi is pitching-friendly, but his road numbers were almost identical, so it wasnít just a park illusion.
His numbers in Triple-A were less impressive: 5.40 ERA, 22:11 K:BB in 32 innings over six starts, 48 hits. The hit rate went way up, driven by a rough .404 BABIP; that is very elevated and way beyond his career norms, likely some bad luck was factored in there. Two difficult outings on August 16th (11 hits in 4.2 innings) and August 31st (12 hits in four innings) were responsible for the high hit ratio; his other four starts were closer to his career norms. His Triple-A FIP was 4.11, quite good for the level at his age and more than a run lower than his ERA, and further indication that he pitched better for Round Rock than the raw numbers indicate.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
There are rumors that Lyles will get a shot at the major league rotation in spring training. Thatís possible, but I think it more likely that heíll need additional Triple-A seasoning. We should still see him up at some point by midseason 2011. If Lyles picks up some additional velocity, he projects as a classic No. 2 starter. If his velocity remains where it is currently, he can still be a very efficient number three, inning-eater type, along the lines of a Brad Radke. He doesnít even turn 20 until October 19th, so his career could still develop in any number of directions. He should have a very good one, assuming he avoids injury.