DENVER -- The Rockies added youth and ground-ball ability to their rotation on Tuesday by acquiring right-hander Jordan Lyles from Astros in a deal that also netted them defensively strong outfielder Brandon Barnes in exchange for center fielder Dexter Fowler and a player to be named.
Lyles, who turned 23 on Oct. 19, will join a list of young arms competing for the two spots behind a strong trio at the front of the rotation -- righty Jhoulys Chacin, lefty Jorge De La Rosa and righty Tyler Chatwood. Right-hander Juan Nicasio has the inside shot at the fourth spot and will join Lyles and left-handers Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich in Spring Training competition.
Barnes, 27, plays primarily center field and was noted for his hustle and fielding while with the Astros, mostly in center. The Rockies already have asked three-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner Carlos Gonzalez to move from left field to center. The right-handed-hitting Barnes could compete with or share time with left-handed-hitting Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, and right-handed-hitting Charlie Culberson, in left.
In past offseasons the Rockies have resisted dealing Fowler, who was the primary center fielder since 2009 and who, over the last two seasons, has been an effective leadoff hitter when healthy, but the need for pitching led to the deal. Fowler hit .300 with a .389 on-base percentage in 2012 and seemed headed for a career year in 2013 before sustaining injuries to his right index finger, right wrist and left knee that limited him to 119 games and saw him finish with a .263 batting average and .369 on-base percentage.
The deal gives the Rockies payroll flexibility. Fowler is due $7.35 million in 2014 and is eligible for arbitration in 2015. Lyles becomes arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2015, and Barnes isn't projected for arbitration eligibility until 2016. That could put the Rockies in better position to chase a corner bat, with first baseman Justin Morneau their preferred candidate.
Lyles, a supplemental first-round pick by the Astros in 2008 out of Hartsville (S.C.) High School, has thrown 377 innings over three seasons, going 14-29 with a 5.59 ERA in 72 games, including 65 starts. Last season he started 25 of his 27 Major League appearances and went 7-9 with a 5.59 ERA, and he went 2-2 with a 5.32 ERA in six games (five starts) at Triple-A Round Rock.
Lyles' 1.01 ground balls for every flyball is a stat that intrigued the Rockies. (That figure was 1.21 during his 25 starts in 2012.) He throws several varieties of fastball -- a four-seam, a sinker and a cutter -- has had an above-average changeup since high school, and in 2012 had a breakthrough with his curve when he adjusted his grip. He said that he leans on the sinker when he needs a grounder, and he's not afraid to pitch at Coors Field.
"I was surprised -- shocked a little -- and I'm sure everyone is once they have been traded," Lyles said. "The park is obviously different, and a lot of people don't like going there. I think it's going to be fun. I'm going to learn a lot."
The Rockies have been collecting young, highly regarded arms over the past several seasons, with Chatwood's 2013 campaign serving as an example of how it can lead to success. Chatwood, who turns 24 on Dec. 16, threw 142 innings with the Angels in 2011 before the Rockies acquired him for catcher Chris Iannetta. It took until about a month into the 2013 season for Chatwood to harness his power arm, but his performance (8-5, 3.15 ERA in 20 starts) was a bright spot.
Into this mix steps Lyles, who made his big league debut with the Astros at the age of 20 but never felt that he was rushed.
"I never felt over my head at any point, definitely not," Lyles said. "I had some ups and downs. Every player goes through that during the course of a season. I was very fortunate to be in a situation where they were able to move me so quickly. But I've always adapted to the level I was at pretty well."
Barnes, a sixth-round pick in 2005, hit .240 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 136 games in his rookie season in 2012, making several highlight-reel catches. He appeared in 179 Major League games over the last two seasons.
Barnes has made 148 appearances in center, including 125 starts, and has played 18 games in right field and nine in right. He has not spoken to the Rockies about their plans for him.
"I'm excited to be a part of the Rockies, excited for a new chapter," Barnes said. "I pride myself on how hard I work. I plan on working even harder and being a part of the Rockies, hopefully winning some championships and playing some good baseball. I'm looking forward to learning form Michael Cuddyer, Troy Tulowitzki and CarGo, learning my craft and becoming a better all-around baseball player."
Offensively, Barnes has experience at every spot in the order. Although his .289 on-base percentage last season suggests that he is a work in progress, the numbers also reveal some offensive strengths. He hit .296 with a .354 on-base percentage in 148 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, which could make him valuable on a roster heavy with lefty-hitting outfielders. He's also 13-for-13 in career stolen-base attempts.
"It's a great place to play and a great place to hit," he said. "I'm excited."