added 6/12/2009 by Bob Hulsey
The Lexington Five isn't a long-forgotten British band from the Sixties. Rather, they are the five pitching prospects in the Astros A-ball system in Lexington, KY who have been putting up solid numbers and raising hopes that Houston will be awash in good young pitching for the next decade.
Here's a thumbnail sketch of the five and their seasons so far (all stats through Thursday, June 11th, courtesy the team's official site):
Ross Seaton (age 19) is perhaps the one getting the most raves. The 6-4 righthander from Second Baptist High School in Houston was picked in the third round of last year's June draft and signed above slotting after many believed he was sure to choose college over the pros. He's had a 6-5 won-loss record this year with a 2.49 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and an almost 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) ratio. He started well in April, struggled in May but has bounced back in June where he notched his first complete game.
Jordan Lyles (19) was a first-round supplemental pick in 2008. The South Carolinian, also a 6-4 righty, has a 2-6 record with a 3.29 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and an almost 7-to-1 K/BB rate. He has yet to make it past seven innings in any of his starts but his high strikeout count (81 in 66 IP) probably translates to higher pitch counts. He got off to a rough April and seems to have trouble working out of jams but the talent is obviously there once some adjustments are made.
Kyle Greenwalt (20) was a 20th-round pick in the 2007 draft from Pennsylvania. a 6-foot righthander, Kyle is 3-6 with a 3.08 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and a 3-to-1 K/BB rate. Like Seaton, he was hot in April but struggled in May and has leveled off so far this month. The most encouraging note on him is his high ratio of ground balls to fly balls.
Robert Bono (20) is a converted catcher from Connecticut that got off to a hot start in the South Atlantic League. The 6-2 righty was plucked in the 11th round of the 2007 draft. Bono is 5-3 with a 2.31 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and a 5-to-1 K/BB rate. He gives up more hits than the others (.266 BAA) but he has walked just eight batters and has shown a knack of working out of trouble. He has not been able to keep up with his torrid April but his overall numbers still look good.
Brad Dydalewicz (19) is the lefty of the group and comes from Austin. He was taken in the eighth round after he was expected to attend college. He is 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA, and a 1.08 WHIP but has 15 walks against 17 strikeouts. He missed a month due to injury and has struggled to get back in the groove but hopes for him are still high. With less than 31 innings pitched, it is too early to make much of his numbers.
Every general manager dreams of being able to have a trio of starting pitchers like the Atlanta Braves had throughout the 1990s. For a decade, they could trot out Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz who consistently put up Cy Young-worthy numbers and almost never missed a start. All three may end up in Cooperstown. It should be noted that Glavine was the only one raised through the Braves' farm system. Maddux was a free agent signing from the Cubs and Smoltz was the reward for trading Doyle Alexander to Detroit during a pennant stretch, much in the same way the Astros acquired Jeff Bagwell.
But rarely are the baseball gods so pliant. Back in the early 1990s, at the same time the Braves were starting their impressive run of pitching, the New York media was agog over three pitching prospects coming up in the Mets' farm system that were supposed to set them up for a decade. But when the dust settled, Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen gave the Mets 30 wins and 42 losses, not to mention a lot of time on the disabled list.
Let's look at the last bumper crop of young pitchers that came through Houston back around 2001. The quartet drawing raves then were Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Tim Redding and Carlos Hernandez.
Any Astros fan can tell you what we got from Oswalt - 131 wins and a .662 winning percentage over a decade of excellence. Miller produced 58 wins over six years with the Astros before shoulder injuries derailed his career. Redding was the one most scouts thought had the highest upside but he was dealt after a 21-28 record as an Astro and is still looking to restart his career. Hernandez injured his pitching shoulder sliding into a base head-first which cut short a career that produced just nine big league victories.
The results the Astros had then is more typical of what a team gets with a group of pitching prospects. Out of four great arms, the Astros found one star, one decent starter and two that never put it all together. Redding, at least, gave us a parting gift when he was traded to San Diego by Tim Purpura for catcher Humberto Quintero.
I expect that stardom awaits only one of the Lexington Five. I wish the best for all of them but those are the cruel odds they are facing. We just don't know which one is going to break through and be the ace we all would like to see. Hopefully, we get something closer to the Braves and not closer to what happened to the Mets. Nobody knows the answer to that now, which is why stockpiling pitching prospects is important to the health of any baseball organization.