Prospect Week: Lyles, Nicasio, Cobb

It’s June 1st and you know what that means? Prospect call-ups are right around the corner! We’ll dedicate most of this week to examining prospects who might help fantasy teams for the rest of the 2011 season.

This trio of pitchers are already up and pitching at the big-league level. Who should you go after for help the rest of the way?

2011 Stats: ERA/FIP, K/9/BB/9, GB%

Jordan Lyles HOU – AAA: 3.20/.3.49, 6.3/2.4, 41%
At just 20 years of age, Jordan Lyles made his major league debut on Tuesday, going six strong innings while allowing four hits and no earned runs. He struck out one and walked one. Lyles is the Astros top pitching prospect, but take into consideration that he gained that standing due to the lack of high-end starting pitcher talent in the system. That being said, Lyles is no fluke. Armed with a low 90’s fastball, curve and change, Lyles commands the strike-zone with all three pitches, but none stand out as a big-time strikeout pitch. That in and of itself might be what ultimately limits his fantasy value. In order to get buy with low strikeout numbers and be fantasy relevant, a pitcher must (usually) have great command and be able to keep the ball out of the stands (high groundball rates preferred). While Lyles did a good job of keeping the ball in the park at the minor league level, it remains to be seen if he can continue that trend in the big leagues. He didn’t show much ground ball potential at the higher minor league levels and major league hitters shouldn’t have a problem making plenty of contact on his pitches this season. His numbers might be highly BABIP influenced.

While Lyles look like a pitcher that will have a solid big league career, I don’t see a ton of fantasy upside for this season. Down the road I think his ceiling might be a low-end fantasy starter.

Juan Nicasio COL – AA: 2.22/2.19, 10/1.6, 42%
Nicaso came into the season as a mid-level prospect, but has quickly gained momentum as his velocity continues to impress. Just before his call to the big leagues, John Sickels of Minor League Ball wrote up a quick breakdown about Nicasio’s progress…

“Nicasio’s velocity has been steadily improving, moving from the 88-92 range earlier in his career, to 90-95 last year, to more consistent mid-90s readings this year including some reports of him touching 100 for Tulsa. He mixes in a very good curveball, as well a decent slider and changeup, giving him a complete arsenal. He throws strikes, has a good feel for pitching, and has had no trouble adapting to Double-A.” – http://www.minorleagueball.com/2011/5/27/2191632/prospect-of-the-day-juan-nicasio-rhp-colorado-rockies

While watching footage of his major league debut, I saw radar gun readings as high as 97 MPH. BrooksBaseball.net pitch f/x had his average fastball at 94.5 MPH. 65 percent of his pitches were strikes and his track record of great command in the minor leagues suggests that he should post low walk totals in the big leagues. The combination of high strikeouts and low walks is about as tantalizing as it gets when it comes to looking at pitchers. The only drawback might be if Nicasio develops Ricky-Nolasco-itus. Meaning that he’s around the plate so much that he allows a few too many home runs. Nicasio allowed 14 home runs in 177.1 inning last year, but that may have been a product of the ultra-hitter-friendly California League.

Nicasio may very well be one of those under-the-radar prospects that, because of improved velocity–on top of great command–, surprises even the best prospect analysts and becomes a well above average major league starter. Between his velocity, command, strikeout numbers in the minors and the fact that he pitches in the NL West, I’d say there is a good amount of upside in his game for 2011 and the future might be even brighter.

Alex Cobb TB – AAA: 1.14/.2.33, 9.5/1.9, 52%
Unlike the case with Lyles, Cobb was buried in the rankings this pre-season due to a tremendous amount of pitching depth in the Rays system. However, all he has done at the upper levels is produce. Last season, Cobb posted a 9.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 119.2 innings at double-A. In 47.1 innings at triple-A this season, Cobb had posted a 9.5 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9. Pretty damn impressive. However, any reports or notes that I have read about Cobb continually discount his pure stuff and ultimate ceiling as a big league starter.

Cobb’s best pitch may be his changeup, which features plenty of sink. His groundball rates in the minors have held above 50 percent at each level according to stats from FirstInning.com.

Through two big-league starts, Cobb hasn’t looked like the pitcher that showed such good command in the minor leagues. In 10.2 innings, he has already allowed eight walks. Based on his track record, that trend should change once he settles in. When that happens, he’ll no-doubt find more success against big-league offenses and his changeup gives him at least one out pitch. Still, Cobb’s upside is limited due to pitching in the AL East.

The injured Jeff Niemann is set to begin his minor league rehab, so Cobb’s time in the big leagues could be short-lived. Next time around, it could be top-prospect Matt Moore who gets the call instead.