The Houston Astros Have a Future… No, Seriously

The Houston Astros’ top prospect Jason Castro was recalled recently and gives fans of the organization something to look forward to as he acclimatizes himself to the Major Leagues. Through five MLB games, he’s off to a nice start with a wOBA of .392. The even better news for Astros followers, though, is that there are more prospects on the way. And the one that we should be most excited about could one day throw to Castro.

Jordan Lyles, just 19, is currently performing well in double-A. The right-hander has a 3.10 FIP in 93.1 innings of work and has given up 88 hits and just 22 walks, which shows outstanding control (2.10 BB/9) for a teenager. His 85 K total places him in second place in the Texas League, 11 knockouts ahead of teammate Douglas Arguello.

There are a couple small things that Lyles can continue to work on. His ground-ball rate is just average at 44% and better worm-burning numbers could help him when he pitches at home in Houston. His numbers against left-handed batters are not too bad – in part because of a low BABIP – but his strikeout rate drops from 9.95 against righties to 6.35 K/9. This could suggest that his change-up is not an overly effective pitch against lefties – or he’s just not using it enough.

Another interesting stat with Lyles this year is his strikeout rate with runners in scoring position, which is just 4.38 – compared to 9.85 K/9 with the bases empty. This is basically the exact opposite of what you want to see; the more you put balls in play, the more likely you are to fall victim to bad luck (or bad fielding) because you don’t want to give base runners the chance to scamper home. Lyles has been lucky to this point with a .231 BABIP with RISP but that’s unlikely to hold true. The Astros prospect also had a similar statistical trend in ’09. It’s a trend that a lot of pitchers follow, but not to the extreme that Lyles has (a difference of almost 5.50 K/9).

One of the most interesting things about Lyles is that the Houston Astros organization was just about the only club that viewed the right-hander as a potential supplemental first round pick when he was selected out of a South Carolina high school and signed for just under a $1 million. He’s performed better than any other ’08 supplemental pick not names Mike Montgomery or Jake Odorizzi. Kudos to the Astros’ talent oft-maligned evaluators.

With Roy Oswalt’s and Brett Myers‘ futures up in the air as the trade deadline nears, Lyles could be positioning himself to aid the organization at some point in 2011. Both Lyles and Castro could help to breathe new life into this stagnant organization. If the organization is smart, it will look to trade both Oswalt and Myers – neither of whom will be around when the organization is ready to compete for a title, anyway – to hopefully acquire some complementary parts to build around the battery of the future.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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13 years ago

Other guys to watch out for in the near future:

Chris Johnson – Hugely beneficial adjustments to his plate approach this year. He’s hitting for a lot more power and making much more contact. I’m convinced he can stick in the big leagues, maybe as a starter, maybe not. Fielding is a question mark; he has the tools, including a plus throwing arm, but he’s sloppy.

Koby Clemens – Big power and patience make up for his lack of contact skills, though he’s been slumping the past couple weeks. Fringey athleticism at catcher or third base plays as above average at first, and I like what I’ve seen from him there. He could be a plus defender at 1B in time.

Dallas Keuchel – Polished lefty starter, skipped low A, performing well in the most hitter-friendly park in pro baseball. Should hopefully see time at AA this season. Could be a good no. 4 starter, maybe even a middle rotation guy at the big league level, and may be in the majors as soon as next year.

Jack Shuck – Plus, plus contact skills and above average patience, resulting in a very high OBP everywhere he’s gone. The bad news? His power is below average, and he hasn’t been playing a whole lot of center field. He also isn’t going to steal a ton of bases, though he does have some speed. If he can play good enough defense to start in center field, he should have more than enough bat for the position. If not, he’s probably a bench player. He’s logjammed for now, though.