At just 22 years old, Jordan Lyles had once been regarded as the Houston Astros‘ top prospect and one of the top 50 in the game headed into 2011, according to Baseball America.
The righty has the upside to one day be a front-line starter for this club, and being that the 2013 Astros is a team with not much else other than upside to play for, you’d think Lyles would be a lock to be give a chance to expand on his 25-start season in 2012, yes?
Apparently not, according to the team’s new manager Bo Porter.
Well, at least, not necessarily. See, even on an Astros rotation that’s made up of a mish-mash of former prospects, the team’s home-grown top prospect is anything but a lock this season. In fact, there are only two pitchers on the team who Porter considers to have guaranteed spots on the starting five: Lucas Harrell, who was the team’s best pitcher in 2012, and Bud Norris, who has led the team in strikeouts over the last three seasons.
Now, your initial idea of a Harrell-led rotation might be something like this:
Bo Porter says Bud Norris & Lucas Harrell are only locks for Astros starting rotation, if this club doesn’t lose 110 games its a miracle.
— Ben Maller (@benmaller) February 12, 2013
But looking a little closer at players who round it out, you’ll see why Porter is unwilling to give Lyles the complete benefit of the doubt, even if he will have an inside track.
There’s the fact that the young right-hander struggled in the role last season, posting a disappointing 5.09/1.40 ERA/WHIP with a .279 BAA. The 2.36 K/BB is certainly a positive note, but his stuff wasn’t fooling anyone (6.9 SwStr percentage) and he was giving up far too many homers 1.27 K/9 to boot.
Lyles’ 4.10 xFIP suggests that he could be better and he did show a rather dramatic home/road split with (4.30 ERA, 0.96 HR/9 at home vs. 6.00 ERA, 1.64 HR/9 on the road), but there’s still a lot of work to be done for him to become a consistent starter.
Besides, if he doesn’t pan out, Porter and the Astros have no shortage of options to choose from as far as prospects go. There’s Jarred Cosart, who was the team’s top pitching prospect coming into 2012 and who tore through two levels of the minors last season. There’s also Phil Humber, who might be the most unlikely pitcher to throw a perfect game yet.
They’re joined by former Cleveland Indians top pitching prospect Alex White as well as a couple of others who fit a similar profile with lower upside.
Point being, there are three spots in the rotation with more than enough former-or-current prospects to fill them and Lyles is young enough that the team could conceivably start him in AAA for more seasoning, even though they don’t have much to lose by giving him a job in the bigs.
Or, it’s more likely a way for Porter to instill some sense of competition in this young squad and in players like Lyles. Whether it’ll work or not remains to be seen, but you’d imagine the he’d have to be more motivated, knowing that his place isn’t certain.