Most prospectors talk a lot about Jordan Lyles when speaking of arms in the Astros farm system, and for good reason: He's been nothing short of dominant at a young age since entering the system. One prospect who might have fallen a bit by the wayside, though, is Kyle Greenwalt. The young righthander is having one of the best starts of any pitcher in the organization, and he's doing it in the hitter's paradise that is the Class A-Advanced California League.
Greenwalt has a 2.86 ERA in 22 innings so far this season, and it's no fluke: During that time, he's struck out 18 batters and walked only one, and has yet to allow a long ball. Needless to say, walking only one batter in that many innings is a demonstration of outstanding control, and that he has an above average strikeout rate to go with it bodes well.
As a starter in Class-A Lexington last season, Greenwalt's earned run average wasn't particularly impressive, at 4.20; yet his results were actually much better than that, when you look beneath the surface. He pitched 139 innings with an excellent 3.21 K/BB ratio. His FIP was much better than his ERA, according to FanGraphs, at 3.40. His strikeout rate fell compared to his career levels, at only 5.81 strikeouts per nine innings, but his control was excellent, as he walked less than two batters per nine.
In fact, Greenwalt has never posted an FIP higher than that 3.40 number in his short career, despite a 7.53 ERA rookie season, during which a sky-high BABIP and LOB% seemed to have killed him. (His FIP that season was 3.34.)
Stuff and scouting reports
I've seen varying reports on what kind of stuff Greenwalt has, but most of them are dated, so it's hard to say whether he's developed anymore velocity in the past year or two. Nonetheless, they tend to agree that he pitches above 90 MPH, which is what you want to see for a pitcher to have a shot at success at the big league level.
Greenwalt himself said way back in 2006, before he was drafted, that his fastball sits at 92-96MPH. This was likely a bit of exaggeration on his part, as I haven't seen his velocity listed quite that high anywhere else. The interview with him makes a good read, anyway. He seems to have a lot of self-confidence and a good awareness of his strengths and weaknesses. He also compares himself to Roy Oswalt when asked, "because [they] have the same tempo on the mound." (This also makes sense because they're both a little on the short side, at six foot even.)
Other reports on his fastball weren't quite as optimistic, but still promising. After he was picked in 2007, Baseball America said this about him:
He was a high-profile figure as an underclassman and may have worn himself out with a plethora of showcase appearances last summer, but he was returning to form this spring. He has flashed an above-average fastball up to 93 mph with heavy sink at times. Greenwalt's breaking ball has inconsistent shape, but ranges from 76-81 mph, and he will occasionally snap off a filthy downer with hard break and tight rotation.
He seemed to improve his command and feel for his breaking ball in his rookie season, because Baseball America followed up in 2008 to say this:
Best Secondary Pitch: Kyle Greenwalt (20) has a sharp breaking ball. Bono flashes a nasty curveball but can't match Greenwalt's feel for his breaking ball.
So from this we can gather that he throws a hard sinker and a good curveball. That's a good start! He also apparently features a slider and a changeup, though it sounds like those pitches were works in progress previously; he may have refined one or both of them by now, however.
As a guy who tends to work in the zone, he doesn't strike out as many batters as some, but his approach and repertoire seem solid.
The future: ETA and ceiling?
Some expected Greenwalt to start 2010 at Class AA Corpus Christi, but in the end the organization decided to have him begin his season at Lancaster. That said, if this kind of performance continues, it can't be long before they decide to move him up to join Lyles and Abad with the Hooks. The three of them could, as a best case scenario, move up through the system together and all have their major league debuts sometime in 2011 (particularly if any of the pitchers in the MLB rotation are traded this year or next off-season).
At this point, Greenwalt's ceiling is probably not particularly high as a starting pitcher; his average strikeout, low walk ways are not highly favored by prospect analysts, and indeed we have seen time and again that it is rare to be more than a back of the rotation starter with that kind of stuff. However, the fact that he has a good breaking ball and his fastball apparently touches the mid-90s gives him some potential, and I could see him developing into a solid middle rotation starter, based on what we know now. Despite his low minor league FIP to this point, it's hard to imagine that he could be more than a good #3 without significant improvement to his strikeout rate.