I always enjoy reading what others think in terms of Jays prospects and their potential. A recent article by Fansided’s own Nathaniel Stoltz takes a look at Kyle Drabek‘s stats and comes to a uninspiring conclusion – that at best, Kyle will be a middle of the rotation and possibly injury prone pitcher. He’s entirely entitled to his opinion, and I fully respect it as he backs it up with some numbers and great baseball knowledge and I’m positive he’s not alone in his thoughts on the Jays top pitching prospect, but I, like many others including most of Baseball America and countless other scouts and experts, will respectfully disagree with him on all counts.
The first thing that I will cover will not show up on a stat sheet. When people judge pitchers as they come up through the minors, they way too often depend on the old mighty Ks. They never judge a pitcher’s composure, his ability to pitch out of jams, his ability to pitch on days when his stuff just isn’t right, and never really get a feel for how well the team played behind him defensively. All of those factors, and I’m sure I missed many others, come into play when considering a pitcher’s effectiveness. What’s between the ears is sometimes more important than anything.
The are so many examples of guys that threw out a ton of batters in the minors and failed in the transition to the majors that I don’t even know where to start. Andrew Miller, Homer Bailey, and Luke Hochevar are some of the more recent examples I can use in this case. All had excellent SO/9 numbers at high levels of the minors, but all failed to make a great impact as they transitioned to MLB. Why? Because location is everything in MLB. If you can hit your spots, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw. Just ask Oliver Perez. Kyle Drabek is a bulldog. He’ll throw whatever the catcher wants, will throw any pitch at any time, and is a ferocious competitor.
Also, we don’t know what Kyle Drabek was working on while he was in AA. Maybe he was adding pitches, or sharpening them, so that his arsenal would be complete when he makes it to MLB. You don’t learn and trust new pitches overnight. And as was stated in Nathaniel’s article, Kyle already had TJ surgery, which means that he still has to go through the process of trusting his stuff and locating his pitches more regularly. The 2010 season was his second back throwing over 150 innings after only throwing just over 30 the year before, so I believe that 2011 will be his strongest yet as he now has the stamina needed to surpass that mark.
Nathaniel noted stats as an argument against his being effective in MLB, so I’ll counter with stats. Kyle Drabek, at only 22 years old, which is a fine age for AA, held a 1.198 whip in AA. That was good for 5th best in the Eastern League. His ERA was 2.94, which was 3rd in the Eastern League. I would also like to point out that most of his struggles came at the beginning of the season. He held a 1.97 ERA in July and a 1.86 ERA in August, getting 5 starts per month for an ERA less than 2 over 10 starts, and had hitters hitting .173 against him over both months. If that’s not great for someone still readjusting to post TJ pitching and gaining strength, I don’t know what is. Oh, and since the Ks are so important to some, he finished the year off with 52 Ks in 55 IP over his last 10 starts, which I believe is “adequate” for those who find that stat necessary to be a highly ranked prospect.
The reason Kyle Drabek has had lower than usual SO numbers overall is because he hammers the bottom of the strike zone as consistently while using one of the best curveballs in the minors and a power sinker that induces a ton of ground outs, and he was working on his change up during the beginning of the season based on what I heard and read of his experience in AA. Kyle refined his change up, which honestly needed a ton of work, because it is deemed necessary for him to be effective at the MLB level. He got it going in July and beyond, hence the great shift in numbers once he figured the pitch out.
I would also like to add that during his entire minor league career, Kyle Drabek has made 2 fielding errors in 112 chances, for a .985 fielding percentage. Not bad at all, and to top it off he was perfect in 2010, just for good measure. He fields his position extremely well, which is a great attribute for MLB pitchers.
His size was unbelievably noted as a reason for his not being able to remain an effective and healthy starter long term. I know he’s not a giant, and maybe it’s just me, but 6’1″ 190 lbs at 23 is big enough to make due in MLB as a SP. He’ll add a little weight and strength as he gets older, but just to compare, Brett Cecil is 6’1″ 235 lbs, Shaun Marcum is 6’0″ 195 lbs, and Ricky Romero is 6’0″ 210lbs, so I do believe Kyle’s plenty big to have a long and prosperous MLB career.
Personally, I think some just like to nit-pic at flaws because they like to anticipate failure. I’ve heard and read so many things to like about Kyle Drabek that it shocks me when I still hear from nay sayers that make a case for his failing in MLB. Give the kid a chance, that’s all I’m saying. It could be that the nay sayers are correct and that he winds up spending a ton of time in AAA for the next 3 years. But hey, Ricky Romero didn’t exactly light it up as he rose through the minors, and how’s he doing now? Patience is a virtue, and it’s one I know Jays management will have with all of their pitchers.
Kyle Drabek will be much more than a middle of the rotation guy in my opinion. Jim Callis had him ranked 18th in all of MLB prospects last season for a reason, he’s a top notch prospect with a very high ceiling.
Having said all of that, I still have a hard time believing that the Jays will start him in MLB in 2011 unless they make a deal or two that involve a starter or two. Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, and Marc Rzepczynski will be the top 5 heading into 2011. If one of them falters, Kyle will most definitely be the first to hop in. But, as we all know, things happen and it isn’t a sure thing that all 5 starters will go through the spring healthy. I can remember listing Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan as part of the rotation before their injuries came along a few seasons ago. I definitely hope nothing like that happens, but it’s always a possibility.
The expectations for Kyle Drabek in 2011 is that he will continue to build on his dominance on the mound, whether it be in AAA or MLB. I expect he’ll finish the year with the Jays and will be one of the great stories of 2011 for the franchise. He’ll have his struggles to be sure as he gets comfortable pitching in MLB, but he will battle and will get a ton of support from Bruce Walton, who seemed to push all of the right buttons with the staff in 2010, and new Manager John Farrell.
As for his stats in 2011, I’m not really sure what to expect. If he begins the year with his change up clicking immediately and continues to get stronger post TJ, I believe he will surprise a ton of people by being a middle of the rotation guy immediately. If he has issues with that pitch, he’ll need some time to shine but should take his rightful place the Jays staff #2 before 2013 comes around – in my humblest opinion.