08/16/10 10:00 AM ET
Lyles on pace to become a future Astros ace
By Steve Gartner / MLB.com
But as he glanced at the TV one last time, he stopped in his tracks. Lyles saw his name scroll across the screen.
"I did a double-take," he said. "I didn't know I was going to go that high."
Lyles wasn't dreaming, however. He had just received his graduation gift a few hours early. His nap could wait.
"It was a great feeling -- one of the best days of my life," he said. "Something I'll never forget."
The Astros certainly haven't slept on Lyles since they drafted him. He has become the next big prospect in their farm system -- recently ascending to Triple-A Round Rock after less than two years in the organization.
"If you can't project Jordan to be a Major League pitcher, then you can't project anyone," Double-A Corpus Christi manager Wes Clements said. "He's pretty doggone good."
The Astros thought the same thing when they watched him throw a simulated game in pre-Draft workouts back in 2008.
"He was the first kid to throw that day and I turned to [scouting director] Bobby Heck and said 'If all the kids are as good as this kid, it's going to be a heck of a Draft,'" general manager Ed Wade said. "As it turned out, there aren't a lot of kids like Jordan Lyles."
After he was drafted with the No. 38 pick overall, Lyles spent his first season with the Astros' rookie league affiliate in Greeneville, Tenn. That's where he met pitching coach Travis Driskill, a former Major Leaguer.
Driskill knew Lyles, who referred to his pitching coach as "sir," had the potential to be a special pitcher. Driskill has had the chance to see that growth -- moving with Lyles to Class A Lancaster last season and then to Corpus Christi.
"He talks a little bit more," Driskill said with a laugh. "He's a real polite kid."
That politeness shouldn't be viewed as a weakness, though. Driskill saw that drive in Lyles in his last start that year with Greeneville. He needed to throw five scoreless innings to move his ERA below 4.00.
"He had nothing but a fastball that day -- and he still struck out 10 guys," Driskill said. "When he showed me he could do that, it showed me he could climb the ladder of the system pretty quickly -- as long as he could command the fastball."
Sure enough, Lyles finished with a 3.99 ERA. He lowered it to 3.24 last year and to 3.12 this season with Corpus Christi. But despite his 6-foot-4 frame, Lyles won't overpower hitters with his fastball. His doesn't approach triple digits. Instead, he throws around 94 mph while focusing on his command.
"When he is right, he has immaculate control [around] the plate," Clements said. "He has the makeup of a Major League pitcher."
Clements has also noticed the maturity of Lyles. At 19, Lyles is considerably younger than his 23- to 25-year-old teammates. He showed that maturity in his start July 21 against Midland in Double-A. After giving up a grand slam, Lyles didn't give up any more runs, finishing with 11 strikeouts.
"Most 19 year olds should be in college getting bigger and stronger," Driskill said. "He's able to do some things with the baseball that surprise even me."
With the recent trade of ace Roy Oswalt, the Astros have begun an official youth movement -- and Lyles' debut in the big leagues doesn't seem far off. While the team has no timetable for his arrival, Wade is watching him closely.
"We think he's advanced beyond his years," Wade said. "He's very focused on getting to the big leagues soon. We certainly aren't going to discourage that."
Lyles also said he doesn't have a date for making his Major League debut. Right now, he's focused on consistency.
"There's always room for improvement," he said. "The job's not done until you make the Major Leagues -- and after that you have to stay there."
If his track record is any proof, he'll have no problem staying and succeeding there.
Steve Gartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.