Anyone who has spent time trying to comb through the ranks of minor league prospects to identify the next generation of major-league stars is familiar with phrases such as "prospects will break your heart" and "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect." Jordan Lyles's 2016 season evokes both.
The promise wasn't misplaced. From the days in Houston where he was a 21-year-old with a 3.50 ERA and 75 strikeouts to 25 walks in his first 100 innings pitched of Triple-A ball to the end 2015, where his first 32 starts with Colorado were roughly league average (96ERA+ 102FIP-). As a 24-year-old starter, Lyles showed the talent that made him peak at No. 42 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list.
The 2016 season was really a worst case scenario for Lyles, who had seen both his 2014 and 2015 seasons cut short by injury. Lyles started the season in the rotation and made four starts in April, with the final effort being a 2.2 inning outing where he walked five and didn't strike a batter out. It got the now 25-year-old sent to Triple-A. He was given one more crack at the rotation in May while making a spot start. Lyles again failed to get out of the third inning, spelling the end his time as a Rockies rotation member. His final line as a starter for 2016 was five games started, 20 innings pitched, 24 runs allowed (19 earned), 14 walks, and 12 strikeouts.
There was a period between late June and early September where the former prospect looked like he might have found a new home in the bullpen, sporting a shiny 2.56 ERA over 31.2 innings pitched. But It didn’t take Nostradamus to look at a .269 BABIP, 3.98 strikeouts per nine, and 3.13 walks per nine over that stretch to know that the future wasn't going to be as kind. It, of course, didn’t last, as Lyles allowed eight earned runs in his final four innings. The meltdown started within three days of recently departed manager Walt Weiss stating publicly that Lyles would start being used in higher leverage situation.
The craziest thing about Lyles is that while he probably has reached the end of his time as a member of the Rockies, the man is 25-years-old. It would be easy to rattle off a nearly endless list of pitchers with Lyles's background who suddenly turned everything around. When Jake Arietta was Lyles's age, he had much worse numbers. Arrieta's adjusted ERA was worse, his FIP was worse, he was walking more ,and barely striking out more. Lyles has largely lost all his prospect shine, and the Rockies are unlikely to pay him the $2.5 million it would take to keep him on the 40-man roster. But that doesn’t mean he is done with the major-leagues. If 2016 was the end of his time with the Rockies, then I will say goodbye still defending the thought process that meant sending away a player like Dexter Fowler from a position of strength to acquire a talent like Lyles.