In 2011 Jordan Lyles went from the Astros top pitching prospect to a member of their starting rotation. On May 31st of that year Lyles made his big league debut, taking a shutout into the eighth inning at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. At the tender age of 20, Lyles became the youngest active player in the majors.
Since then, Lyles has been through a lot. After two seasons and forty big league starts, that day probably seems like an ancient memory to Lyles. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the first round pick out of Hartsville High School in South Carolina. Although Jordan has taken his lumps along the way, he has managed to consistently maintain his cool. The 22-year old has gained valuable experience and exhibits maturity beyond his years.
The typical pitcher spends his age-22 season at the AA level. Conversely, Lyles will be entering his third year in the majors. Even though his overall numbers haven’t been pretty, it’s easy to find trends that suggest Lyles will continue to get better. In 2012 Lyles improved his groundball percentage to an impressive 53.9%. That number was exponentially better than the 40.8% he posted as a rookie. In addition, Lyles reduced his line drive percentage from a pedestrian 21.4% in 2011 to a mere 17.1% in 2012.
Lyles also increased his velocity in 2012, raising his average fastball speed to 91.7 after coming in at 89.9 in 2011. That’s nearly a 2 m.p.h. increase, suggesting he is not only getting stronger but also developing a more effective delivery. Lyles was often clocked at 96 m.p.h. last season, a number no one would have imagined he would reach in 2011.
Lyles had a number of starts last year in which he pitched four or five sparkling innings before running into a wall in the fifth or sixth. Many of these meltdowns were preceded by a miscue or two from a rather porous Astros defense. But Lyles successfully weathered the proverbial storm and appears to be in the big leagues to stay.
Although the move to the American League certainly won’t make things any easier, the Astros appear to be committed to Lyles. Jeff Luhnow has already declared Lyles a member of the 2013 starting rotation, meaning his on the job training will continue. If all goes well, Lyles will be a cagey veteran by the time his highly-touted peers join him in the big leagues.