The Houston Astros' season finally just got interesting — and a little controversial.
With Wandy Rodriguez on disabled list, the Astros are going bold, rather than safe, boring and staid. The team is calling up 20-year-old pitching prospect Jordan Lyles to make his Major League Baseball debut Tuesday night in Chicago.
If Lyles stays in the rotation and there are no rainouts, his second start would come June 5 in San Diego and his home debut would happen June 11 vs. the Atlanta Braves, giving that Saturday night game a sudden boost.
Lyles is the top prospect in the Astros organization — the only player in Houston's farm system who is ranked among the top 50 prospects in baseball. In many ways, he is the only hope the Astros have to bring some juice to Minute Maid Park this season.
There was some thought that Lyles pitched well enough in spring training to deserve a spot in the Astros' rotation at the start of the season. The club held back on the fast promotion. But with Lyles having gone 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his last seven Triple A starts, there will be no more waiting.
While the high-powered new ownership group of Jim Crane has not officially taken over the franchise yet (sources continue to tell CultureMap that the likely handover date will be June 28th), Lyles personifies the hope that Team Crane hopes to build on. A former small college All-American pitcher himself at the University of Central Missouri, Crane clearly values pitching first and foremost.
"I do know if you can keep the other team from scoring, you have a good chance of winning," Crane quipped to CultureMap in a side interview after his official introductory press conference. "I look at what the San Francisco Giants did in the playoffs last year. They were just dealing, shutting teams down. They didn't have the world's greatest offense and they didn't need it.
"No one has to tell me how important pitching is."
Despite Lyles success in Triple A, bringing a 20-year-old up to the Majors still raises a red flag in some quarters of baseball and the move wasn't exactly anticipated by many. The Houston Chronicle wrote a story on Friday telling fans to not expect Lyles to be called up.
It turns out the Astros are following a different script, a bolder one with higher potential rewards — and higher risks. By starting Lyles' career on the road, the club can claim that this is purely a baseball move, rather than one designed to sell tickets.
Lyles doesn't have one overpowering pitch. His fastball clocks in the low nineties, his curveball will never be mistaken for Clayton Kershaw's. Instead, Lyles' command and mound presence is what excites baseball people.
And like Kershaw — who's now emerged as one of the best pitchers in the National League — Lyles will make his MLB debut at age 20.
Is he ready? Doesn't matter. The Astros are ready to see.
For more details, stay tuned to CultureMap for more updates on this story.