The Jordan Lyles dilemma


So much promise and yet so still so young, that would be an adequate description of Jordan Lyles. The young righthander made his spring debut on Monday and after showing glimpses during the 2011 season, is poised to battle for the 5th spot in the Astros rotation. Not sure it made a ton of sense to bring him up when they did last season but given the circumstances, it didn’t hurt either. Jordan would go on to hold his own and hopefully provide just a glimpse of things to come while, at the time, appearing to not hurt service time concerns. Now, it appears Lyles has turned into a bit of a dilemma for the Astros in 2012. The Astros actually have decent depth in the rotation and should be far from an embarrassment in that regard but a spot is available for Lyles. Would another year in AAA make sense for such a young prospect or is what he did last season enough of an indicator that no more minor league time is needed?

There are those who believe, why not push the kid and see if he can excel against the best. Not a bad thought, why not, last season the baptism by fire didn’t seem to crush the kid. He held his own quite often and never seemed rattled so why not see what he can do over a full season. If he succeeds, you have an experienced pitcher at an extremely young age who will be all the better for it. If the Astros are satisfied that his service time won’t be a concern, then little should stand in his way. As nice as that all sounds, there isn’t a need to rush the kid even this season. Being such a young pitcher, his right arm must be looked upon as an investment and protected with that in mind. Too much too soon could be a recipe for disaster and it would be a shame if the team lost one of its best prospects during this type of season. The rotation doesn’t need Lyles and the Astros don’t need him, yet. With a number of options available, monitoring him in Oklahoma City could allow for adjustments and good coaching to help out Lyles without the pressure of a big league setting.

While there are arguments as to why Jordan should get that 5th spot in the rotation, there are also arguments in the opposite direction that are just as strong. Why rush Lyles into a tough environment knowing that he has many years to prove himself worthy of a rotation spot. His health is one big reason and maybe none bigger, but service time is another big problem to avoid. While the Astros believed they had missed out on Lyles’ super two status last season by waiting  until midway through the season to bring him up, the new CBA might have changed that. Super two status is a loophole that could speed up the arbitration process for certain young prospects if they reach a certain threshold of games by their 3rd season. Problem is that it changes yearly and even with the Astros demotion of Lyles in August of last season, it could be an issue if not monitored carefully. Service time in general can be worrisome for the Astros, as with most teams, because if Jordan comes out producing he could become quite expensive much sooner than expected. Why waste this time on a meaningless season, in the grand scheme of things, rather than wait a while and save some cash for later. Combining the service time question, health and depth in the rotation it all makes me believe another year in OKC may be the way to go.

Whichever side of the fence you may reside on with this Lyles dilemma, it may just depend on what your expectations are of the 2012 season. If you want to develop Jordan this season and let him take his lumps while worrying about the salary implication later on then Lyles winning the 5th spot is for you. If the bigger picture is your cup of tea then having him sit and working on his pitches in OKC while avoiding service time would be the answer. Tough choice either way but regardless there must be a cautious approach taken with Lyles and a sharp eye on that right arm. Lyles looks the part and showed enough last season to backup that perception so the decision will not come easily for Brad Mills and Jeff Luhnow.