Prospect Retro: Cory Lidle
Cory Lidle was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Minnesota Twins in 1990, out of high school in Covina, California. He had a decent arm but wasn't particularly tall, and teams were more skeptical about short right-handers back then than they are nowadays. He didn't make his pro debut until 1991, throwing five innings in the Gulf Coast League, allowing three runs and five hits but striking out five guys. At this point he wasn't really considered much of a prospect.
He moved up to Elizabethton in the Appalachian League in 1992 and pitched adequately as a swingman, making two starts and 17 relief appearances, posting a 32/21 K/BB in 44 innings with a 3.71 ERA. Again, he wasn't considered much of a prospect, and the Twins released him at the end of the season.
He signed with Pocatello in the Pioneer League in 1993; this was an independent team without a major league affiliation. He went 8-4, 4.13 in 107 innings with a 91/54 K/BB ratio. This was enough for him to earn a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, who signed him in 1994 and used him as a swingman for Class A Beloit (2.61 ERA in 69 innings) and Class A Stockton (4.43 ERA in 43 innings). His combined K/BB ratio was 100/24, and in general he pitched well enough to be considered a Grade C prospect.
Lidle moved up to El Paso in the Texas League in 1995 and pitched well, posting a 3.36 ERA in 45 games (9 starts) and a 78/36 K/BB in 110 innings. Those are solid numbers for the Texas League circa 1995, and again he'd rate as a Grade C prospect, maybe even C+. He didn't get much attention still, but he'd proved that he could survive in a tough Double-A environment, and was still just 23 years old.
In January 1996 he was traded to the Mets for Kelly Stinnett. New York sent him to Double-A Binghamton and put him in the starting rotation full-time for the first time in his career. He thrived, going 14-10, 3.31 in 27 starts with a 141/49 K/BB ratio in 190 innings. His ability throw strikes was very impressive. I gave him a Grade C- because he didn't throw hard in the 1997 book, but this was too low: nowadays I would have given him a C+.
Lidle spent most of 1997 with the Mets, posting a 3.53 ERA in the bullpen. Despite his good performance, the Mets didn't protect him in the expansion draft, and he was picked by the Diamondbacks. He missed most of 1998 and 1999 with injuries, before remerging in the majors with the Devil Rays in 2000. Oakland picked him up in '01 and gave him a shot in the rotation, where he went 13-6, 3.59 in 29 starts, then went 8-10, 3.89 in 30 starts in '02. Lidle has been your basic strike-throwing starting pitcher ever since, occasionally very effective but somewhat erratic as he got into his 30s.
His major league record: 82-72, 4.57 in 1323 innings, with an 838/356 K/BB ratio. Cory wasn't a star, but he threw strikes and generally kept his team in the game. Not bad for a guy who was an undrafted free agent, got released from his first organization, and ended up in independent ball at the age of 21.
Our condolences to his family and friends.