Putting Astros Pitcher Jordan Lyles and the 2008 MLB Draft in Perspective

Thomas B. Shea

With a new GM and a disastrous 2007 draft behind them, 2008 saw an opportunity for the Houston Astros to select two cornerstones for the future of their team. One of them, Jordan Lyles, was a gangly seventeen-year-old high school pitcher from South Carolina.

Before I begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Anthony Boyer, and I’m new to the TCB staff. I've been blogging elsewhere about the Astros since 2009, but I’m ridiculously excited to call this my new home.

I have something of an outside-in perspective that I hope a lot of you will respond to. I've been an Astros fan since 1987, which is also the one and only time in my life that I've been to Houston. I grew up in Cincinnati Reds country and I now live in Los Angeles Dodgers country. I've never been to an Astros home game. I've never seen Minute Maid Park. But that’s a story for another time. For now, let me just say hello to all of you. Hello to all of you.

Now, then. Pop Quiz Time: Besides being teammates on the Astros, what does recent Rule 5 Draft pick Josh Fields have in common with Jason Castro, Brett Wallace, and Jordan Lyles?

If you guessed that they were all 1st round picks in the 2008 Rule 4 Draft, you win a pat on the back. Email me your address for significantly-less-than-prompt delivery.

The 2007 Rule 4 Draft was, more or less, an unmitigated disaster for Houston. They didn't select until 111th overall. In total, they selected 42 players, only one of whom has ever played in the major leagues. That one, Robbie Weinhardt, was drafted in the 38th round. He didn't sign. In 2008, the Tigers drafted him in the 10th round, and he’s been worth 0.4 wins for them.

The small amount of upside is that they were able to flip 10th-rounder Matt Cusick to the Yankees for LaTroy Hawkins, who would go on to be worth 1.1 wins for Houston, but not until the 2008 season.

11th-rounder Robert Bono was part of the package sent to Florida for Matt Lindstrom in 2010. Lindstrom was worth 0.3 wins that season, and was later sent to Colorado for Jonnathan Aristil and Wes Musick, both of whom pitched in Oklahoma City in 2012.

It was Tim Purpura’s last draft for Houston. Less than four months later, Ed Wade was installed as the Astros GM, with the specific goal of improving the minor league system.

After a draft in which not one single player was taken who has ended up in the majors (though they didn't know it at the time), it was important to have a solid draft in 2008. In the first round, the Astros drafted Castro (10th overall) and Lyles (38th overall, to compensate for losing Trever Miller to free agency).

Sandwiched between those picks were Wallace (13th overall by the Cardinals) and Fields (20th overall by the Mariners).

It’s the same draft that saw Wade Miley, Lance Lynn, Lonnie Chisenhall, Ike Davis, Brett Lawrie, Aaron Crow, Gordon Beckham, Yonder Alonso, Buster Posey, Eric Hosmer, Pedro Alvarez, and Jemile Weeks go in the first round. Of course, it also saw Tim Beckham, Kyle Skipworth, Aaron Hicks, and Ethan Martin taken in the first 15 picks. But overall, it’s proven to be a reasonably-deep big league talent pool.

In that draft, six high school pitchers were taken in the first round – Martin, Gerrit Cole, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, Brett Devall, and Lyles. Cole did not sign, instead going to UCLA and later becoming the #1 overall draft pick in 2011. Devall has not pitched since 2010. Only one of the six has pitched in the major leagues so far, aside from 7.1 innings in 2012 from Odorizzi. That one? Jordan Lyles, the youngest of the bunch.

That’s the thing that’s so easy to forget about Lyles. He turned 22 in October. During the time period in which most pitchers are refining themselves against college or minor league talent, he’s pitched to major leaguers.

It was important to have a good haul in 2008. Drafting a high school arm in the first round is always a risk. From 1981 to 2000, 102 high school pitchers were taken in the first round (not including supplement first-round picks). 44 of them never made it to the majors. Only 15 of them won twenty or more games for the team that drafted them.

The fact that Lyles was drafted despite all of this says a lot about what the team thought of him, at least at one time. And the fact that, Cole aside, Lyles could be the most valuable of the high school arms taken in the first round in 2008 should speak volumes about what he’s been able to accomplish so quickly.

235 innings of above-replacement-value pitching from someone who just celebrated his 22nd birthday is no small feat, and the fact that he was one of the five unluckiest pitchers in 2012 suggests that there may be a brighter future in store for the 6’4" righty.

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