Tyler Lyons is expected to make his first major league start for the St. Louis Cardinals today, replacing the injured Jamie Garcia. This is probably just for one start and Lyons isn't in the same category of prospect as other exciting young Cardinal arms like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha or Trevor Rosenthal. Still, Lyons is an interesting prospect, at least if you like sleepers. He is our topic for today's Prospect of the Day.
Tyler Lyons pitched four years of college baseball at Oklahoma State University. After pitching 17 innings of relief as a freshman in '07, he moved into the starting rotation as a sophomore in '08 and thrived, going 12-2, 3.31 ERA with a 92/19 K/BB in 109 innings. His junior year in '09 was decent (4.07 ERA with a 77/25 K/BB in 97 innings), but his senior campaign in '10 resulted in an ugly 6.06 ERA. He still posted a solid 80/18 K/BB in 85 innings, and showed scouts enough stuff to be drafted in the ninth round by the Cardinals.
Making his pro debut in 2011, Lyons was used as both a starter and reliever for High-A Palm Beach in the Florida State League. He posted a 4.50 ERA in 94 innings, with a 79/29 K/BB ratio and 93 hits allowed. His FIP was considerably better than his ERA at 3.68. Moved up to Double-A Springfield to open 2012, he posted a 3.92 ERA with a 54/19 K/BB in 64 innings with a 3.67 ERA. He then moved up to Triple-A Memphis, posting a 4.28 ERA (3.19 FIP) with an 89/18 K/BB in 88 innings.
So far in 2013, he has a 4.47 ERA (3.31 FIP) with a 38/9 K/BB in 46 innings with 56 hits allowed. Note the persistent pattern in his career: his FIP marks are consistently better than his ERAs. The same pattern held back in college in '09 and '10.
Lyons is a 6-4, 200 pound lefty born February 21, 1988. His fastball has been reported in the 87-90 range for most of his career, although reports from Memphis have him in the 90-93 area more frequently this spring. Any velocity boost helps of course. He has a change-up, but his best pitch is his curveball, a key bread-and-butter offering since his days at Oklahoma State. His control is usually solid and he locates all three of his pitches well, maintaining solid K/BB and K/IP ratios.
Many scouts see him as a reliever and in St. Louis that is probably his best long-term role, especially given the other prospects available to the Cardinals, but he's performed well enough in a starting role over the last year to merit at least a brief look in the rotation.
I think the most intriguing thing about Lyons is the persistent tendency for his ERA to under-perform compared to his component ratios. Is this a matter of poor defense behind him, bad luck with runners on-base, a legitimate skill issue, or some combination of all those factors? Generally speaking, we should expect either his ERA to improve and get closer to the FIPs, or the FIPs to slip and get closer to the ERAs.
I've had a positive hunch about Lyons since seeing him in college and rated him as a sleeper in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book. Perhaps pitching with a major league team behind him will unlock his full potential.