Note: Since this writing, Tyler Ivey was placed on the 7-Day IL with Double-A Corpus Christi with an undisclosed injury.
Throughout his baseball journey thus far, Texas has consistently remained home base for Tyler Ivey, but he’s moved through several sets of scenery on his way to his current station. A native of Rowlett, TX on the east side of Dallas, Ivey was a decorated high school pitcher for Rockwall-Heath High School, a bit further outside of the city. He was an enigmatic prospect in those days, displaying a low 90s fastball and feel for a high-upside curveball that were delivered in an unorthodox fashion.
Ivey is often noted as having unique mechanics, even today- the word complicated is often used- but he tells me that in his prep days, his mechanics were even more extreme: “if you see video of me in high school, I was just completely bent over,” he told me, continuing “herky-jerky was how a lot of people described it.”
It’s not how a coach might draw it up, but he told me that “it’s just how I’ve felt comfortable. it’s what’s worked for me, throwing strikes,” and he has the results to match. Evaluators of Ivey as a prep prospect were largely willing to overlook the delivery given both how well Ivey has always repeated his motion, and the feel he had for his hard fastball/curveball combination. The curveball was Ivey’s first secondary weapon on the hill, developing in his high school days: “I remember one of my first outings in high school, I threw the curveball and struck somebody out and I was just like, ‘alright.’” He was seen as a day two type talent at that time and a sought after recruit for college programs, and made the decision to pursue a top-level D1 NCAA opportunity at Texas A&M to hone his craft.
Ivey’s delivery has slowly calmed down a bit over time, but the basis of his delivery has remained more or less the same through to today. In this clip from his season at Texas A&M, he’s gotten noticeably more upright, but his actions are largely similar:
His time as an Aggie ended up being rather short- just one year- but nonetheless it sounds as though it’s made an impact on him. When I asked Tyler about his time at A&M and his eventual departure, he was quick to mention: “first of all, I love A&M. I really enjoyed it there, I made a lot of good friends that I’ll always love, and it was a lot of fun. We won the SEC and we were really close- one win away from the College World Series.”
However, while Ivey was enjoying the ride on one of the country’s best collegiate clubs, he had his own future in the back of his mind. “I just kind of saw the writing on the wall,” he told me, with respect to his role with the Aggies. He told me that, oftentimes “young guys get a shot in the rotation, and if it doesn’t work out, they won’t really pitch [much] again for a full year.” For much of his freshman season, Ivey pitched very well, but, as he detailed: “I hit a bump in the road, I was starting against Florida (at the time the #1 team in the nation) on a Friday night (when college teams typically throw their #1 starter) and I didn’t have a great day.”
At that point, the wheels started to turn for Ivey, who had a focus on continuing his career professionally. “I was going to be a draft eligible sophomore, so I was kind of like, ‘I’ve got a decision to make.’” Older than most of his classmates, Ivey recognized that the best time for him to make the leap to pro ball was in the 2017 draft, and he couldn’t afford to wait and see on his role with the Aggies that season: “It’s kind of what have you done for me lately... The leashes are really short, especially for young guys- and I understand. The coaches, their jobs are on the line too. That’s just how the cookie crumbles out there.” Not everyone in his life understood, but he began weighing a transfer to a JUCO program where his role would be more secure. “I went against advice from basically everyone I knew. Even my Dad told me: ‘dude, you are stupid if you leave A&M and go to a junior college.’” Ivey recounted. “But I just kind of had a vision in my head: I could get to Grayson... and in my mind, I thought I could be top three rounds out of there.”
Choices like these don’t always work out for young ballplayers, but for Ivey, the transfer went about as fully according to plan as he could’ve dreamed. He threw 78.0 sterling frames for Grayson JC, north of Dallas, putting together a 2.08 ERA with 122 strikeouts against 28 walks with just one home run allowed. The change in atmosphere was great for Ivey, who added “I could just pitch and be myself.”
His feel for his potential draft position ended up being spot-on. In the summer of 2017, the Astros used their third round selection on him, keeping him in his home state, if not his hometown. Though many, if not most, clubs viewed Ivey as a future reliever at the pro level, Houston had a clear vision for him as a starting pitcher. He enthusiastically signed his deal and got to work, logging 38.1 innings between the GCL and NYPL and recording 44 strikeouts against 14 walks, solidifying a strong organizational ranking heading into his first full season.
In the Astros organization, Ivey told me, is where his arsenal really started to take shape. “Up through [college], I basically fastball/curveball, and a slider every once in awhile. If you ever saw me throwing a change I was basically throwing BP.” He mentioned that his other offerings did start to get more attention during his time at Grayson, but when he got to work with the Astros, he said “they basically told me: ‘Tyler, you need a changeup, and you need a better slider.’ Bill Murphy... who’s now the director of pitching, has helped me a lot... That’s when my secondary, tertiary pitches started to really develop.” Murphy, a rising star in the Astros organization, was Ivey’s pitching coach with Tri-City in 2017 and filled the same role for Corpus Christi this past year before moving to his current role.
Working with Murphy, Ivey has added to and sharpened his arsenal, which has grown into a true five-pitch mix. “He’s very creative,” said Ivey of Murphy, “he got me throwing a slider at about 78 with pretty good break on it, and also an 88 MPH slider/cutter that’s very tight, spins pretty hard, and that’s helped me out a lot. It’s actually a pitch that I can throw in any count.... and developing the feel of [my changeup].” Ivey never had a ton of trouble getting outs with his fastball and curve, but the added depth to his arsenal has made him an especially difficult matchup for opposing hitters.
Whenever healthy, Ivey has been a dominant arm at the minor league level, and he’s enjoying the ride. Rather than changing his identity as a pitcher, he’s made additions to his game that bolster the skillset that made him his name. He told me that one piece of advice from teammates he’s taken to heart as a pro has been: “don’t forget what got you here.” In Ivey’s case his firm fastball and ability to throw his sharp curveball to all parts of the zone, “especially since I’m a little different, a little different delivery. It’s not a cookie cutter thing.” Thus far, pro hitters have had few answers for Ivey’s stuff. Currently at the Double-A level, he’s been on and off the shelf on a couple of occasions this year, but holds an aggregate 1.38 ERA for the season as of this writing, with a 68/20 K/BB ratio in 52 innings.
The 23 year old righty is one of the best pitching prospects in the system at present and there’s potential for a long future in major league rotations. A heady pitcher who attacks all parts of the zone, Ivey is just a stop away from the big leagues, and with good health and continued performance at his current rate, there’s a strong chance he figures into the rotation mix at some point in 2020. He’s a candidate to play fall or winter ball to replace a few of the reps he missed out on this season, but regardless figures to be assigned to Triple-A Round Rock to start next season, where he can instantly put himself near the top of the list for a call-up if he pitches the way he has thus far as a pro. A Texas native with a unique style, wide arsenal and confidence, Ivey has potential to be a fan favorite in Houston sooner than later.
You can follow Tyler on Twitter @_TylerIvey