Top 50 Jays Prospects, Jays Journal Edition: #1 Kyle Drabek

Everyone already knows who ranks at the top of our list, and he’s the same prospects that has been at the top of the majority of Jays prospects lists created. He is one of the best pitching prospects in all of MLB and should be a valuable addition to the Jays rotation in 2011. At the very top of the 4th best system in all of MLB, he is none other than….

#1: Kyle Jordan Drabek

Right-Handed Pitcher / 23 years old / 6’1″ 190 lbs

image courtesy of hackensackbulls.blogspot.com

Born: December 8th, 1987 in Victoria, Texas

Bats: Right   Throws: Right

High School Team: The Woodlands, Texas

College: NA

Drafted: by the Phillies in the 1st rd (18th overall) of the 2006 draft

Signed: for $1.55 million by Steve Cohen (Phillies)

Quick Facts:

  • His stuff is said to be even better than his dad’s, and although he may be a great athlete due to his father, it’s apparently his mother who gave Kyle his competitive edge as indicated in this Jerry Crasnick of ESPN article.
  • He readily admits to his competitive edge, as he was quoted as saying that “My brother and I had some real bad attitudes growing up,” and added “We were overly competitive.”
  • The Drabeks apparently live in a 17,100 square foot home. Must be nice!
  • He played short-stop as a 12-year old and throughout his high school days, always ranking well within the top players on his squad offensively speaking, as well as on the mound.
  • One interesting fact about his time in High School is that Kyle threw a knuckle-ball instead of a change up when he needed a different pitch to go to than his fastball and curve.
  • Pitched in the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic in 2005, along with Matt Latos and Chris Tillman.
  • Also in 2005, the same year he was named the Texas 5-A player of the year, he was arrested for public intoxication, although charges were later dropped.
  • He also was involved in a single-vehicle crash in 2005 when his Cadillac Escalade hit a tree.
  • In 2006, he led his HS team all of the way to the 5-A State Championship title and was once again named the Texas 5-A player of the year.
  • After this performance, he was drafted by the Phillies in the 1st rd of the draft and pitched in the GCL that season with mixed results.
  • He only made 10 starts in 2007 before requiring Tommy John surgery after blowing out his elbow, but still managed to make the SAL mid-season all star team.
  • Mike Zagurski, a veteran minor league pitcher who had also gone through the same surgery,was “assigned” to Kyle after that point by the Phillies to help him through the recovery process.
  • One of the changes he made following his surgery was that he “altered his mechanics, eliminated a hip turn and takes a more straightforward approach to home plate”.
  • Well, the changes worked and he got himself right back on track in 2008, and wound up winning the Paul Owens award as the top pitching prospect in the Phillies system in 2009.
  • Made the mid-season all-star team in the FSL and was selected to pitch in the Futures Game in 2009.
  • Kyle has deep baseball roots, being the son of  Cy Young winning pitcher Doug Drabek. Doug pitched over 2500 innings in the majors, won 155 games, had a 3.73 career ERA and 1.243 whip, and had 53complete games. He was also within the top 5 in Cy Young award votes 3 times (won it once in 1990 at 27 years old while pitching for the Pirates).
  • Made the mid-season and post-season all-star teams in the EAS league in 2010, also being named the league’s pitcher of the year.
  • Throughout his minor league career, he has always been ranked within the top 5 prospects for his organization by Baseball America (2nd in 2006, 5th in 2007, 5th in 2008, 2nd in 2009, and 2nd in 2010, and 1st in 2011).
  • Despite winning the EAS pitcher of the year award, he was preceeded by both Dominic Brown and LHP Zach Britton in Baseball America’s rankings for the top EAS prospects post-2010, finishing 3rd overall.
  • Something that goes unseen sometimes is the fact that he fields his position extremely well. In 71 minor league games, Kyle has only made 2 errors in 112 defensive chances, and holds a .982 fielding percentage as a result.
  • Was ranked the 25th best prospect in MLB by Baseball America pre-2010 on their top 100 list, and made to 29th on the pre-2011 list.
  • On a final light note, Kyle enjoys country music (Tim McGraw in particular), and loves to Golf.

Jersey: #4 for the New Hampshire Fishercats

Stats:

Yr Team Lg W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
06 PHL GCL 1 3 7.71 6 23.1 33 24 20 2 11 14 0.333
07 LWD SAL 5 1 4.33 10 54 50 29 26 9 23 46 0.239
08 PHL GCL 0 1 2.25 4 12 6 3 3 0 6 6 0.15
08 WIL NYP 1 2 2.21 4 20.1 11 6 5 1 6 10 0.159
08 Minors 1 3 2.23 8 32.1 17 9 8 1 12 16 0.156
09 CLR FSL 4 1 2.48 9 61.2 49 19 17 0 19 74 0.218
09 REA EAS 8 2 3.64 14 96.1 92 40 39 9 31 76 0.252
09 Minors 12 3 3.19 23 158 141 59 56 9 50 150 0.239
10 NH EAS 14 9 2.94 27 162 126 67 53 12 68 132 0.215
10 Minors 14 9 2.94 27 162 126 67 53 12 68 132 0.215
10 Majors 0 3 4.76 3 17 18 9 9 2 5 12 0.295

Interviews/Videos:

A 10 question and answer session with Kyle from MLB.com is available here.

An interview with the guys at BusLeagueBaseball.com is available here.

Ranking amongst Fishercats pitchers (more than 5 starts):

  • 1st in  IP (162), GS (27), Wins (14), ERA (2.94), Ks (132)
  • 2nd in whip (1.20)

Ranking amongst Eastern League pitchers (more than 5 starts):

  • 1st in Wins
  • 3rd in IP (162), tied for 3rd in Ks (132)
  • 5th in Whip (1.20)

Jays fans all over must remember the “not so far in the past” days when Roy Halladay took to the mound and opposing fans would sulk as they knew that their respective teams were likely to suffer a loss, or at best scratch out a win. Well, get excited Jays fans, because all indication point to the fact that the Jays picked up a pitcher who could replicate that exact feeling of angst among opposing team fans when they deal Halladay and picked up Kyle Drabek.

The quick facts section above went through some of his earlier years and some fascinating facts about his maturing process. When compiled, we get a sense that this young man has already experienced quite a bit in such a short span of life. From personal trials and tribulations, to being placed in pressure packed situations during his entire life as an athlete, Kyle has shown perseverance and poise throughout, as well as the ability to surmount any obstacle placed in front of him. No obstacle proves that more than the ability to return from Tommy John surgery. Not only did Kyle make the appropriate changes to his throwing motion in order to reduce the chances of re-injuring himself, but he also improved his stuff both on and off the field through that process. There were no other instances of off field mishaps, and more dominant performances on the mound that eventually led to such a high amount of praise within the Phillies organization that they wouldn’t even include him in a deal for Roy Halladay. How’s that for being highly thought of?

At this point, I would contend that Kyle Drabek would not be the pitcher and professional person he is today had he not faced all of those adversities. With a clean slate in front of him and a greater level of understanding about how tough things in life can get, he is now poised to take that next step amongst the Toronto Blue Jays rotation.

Let’s rewind for a second here and examine his progression through the minors once he had been drafted by the Phillies. I’ll do so by looking at his performances each year, and may add some quotes about his stuff and performance when warranted. Before I do that, lone of the greatest quotes I found about Kyle’s stuff prior to the draft taking place is the following by the Perfect Game scouting service:

“He’s the consensus top HS prospect in the North America as an RHP — he’s not too far off that status as a SS, either … Great natural athlete and things come very easy to him … Big-time football WR, too, with listed 4.4 type speed … Son of former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek; his dad never had this kind of stuff; his FB is consistently in the 94-95 m.p.h., area and he has probably the best breaking ball in the draft, a filthy low 80s slider with great depth and sharpness … Scouts say his eyesight tests off the charts and his performance backs it up … Lots of concerns about his temper on the field and his maturity off the field … He should go top 10 in the draft, potentially No. 4 to his dad’s old team, the Pirates.”

2006 – The Year Kyle was Drafted

As you can tell from the quote above, if teams were not aware of any concerns about his off-field activities, Kyle would likely have been drafted well within the top 10 instead of at number 18 by the Phillies. His stuff was never questioned and was rated by most to be much better than his dad’s, a Cy Young winner. He had finished his high school days with a 10-0 season and a 1.18 whip as a pitcher, but also played SS on the field. He hit .479, managed 6 HR, and was the main reason his team won the 5-A State Championship title.

What the Phillies knew when they drafted him was this: he had fastball that worked between 91 and 95 MPH with the ability to hit 97 MPH. They also knew that it wasn’t his best pitch. His strike out pitch, one that could buckle a hitter’s knees, was a 77-83 MPH spike curve ball. There was little a young hitter could do against his curve, and combined with his fastball, it proved to be a deadly duo. However, consistency continued to be the question mark, as was the eventual development of a slide and change-up (two pitches that he showed he could develop, but had not thrown often to that point).

Here are two draft-time quotes that tell you something about Kyle Drabek‘s curve ball and fastball combination:

A quote from Matt Latos:

“It’s pretty filthy,” Latos said. “I’ve seen a lot of curveballs and some nasty sliders, but not a curveball like that. All I could think was, ‘I’m glad I’m not a hitter.”’

A quote from an NL scout:

“That’s about as easy an upper-90s fastball as you’re going to see,” said a National League scout. “The ball just jumps out of his hand. He’s a special guy.”

Kyle did make 6 starts in the GCL in 2006 after being drafted and struggled to get going. He averaged fewer than 4 innings per start, allowed 33 hits in only 23.1 IP, and only managed to win 1 game. He ended the season with a 7.71 ERA and a 1.79 whip. Kyle also struggled to keep his emotions in check and often allowed his temper to get the best of him when things didn’t go his way on the mound. Not exactly what the Phillies wanted to get from him at that point, but it was something they knew could happen based on his history.

2007

Scouts continued to call his spike curveball “unhittable”, but began making some strides with his change up after spending a lot more time learning how to throw it. On the down side, there were questions about his mechanics when working from the stretch, and he also struggled to repeat his delivery consistently, leading to battles with his command.

Kyle threw in 11 games (10 starts) for Lakewood in the Sally league in 2007, for a total of 54 innings. He fared much better than he had in 2006, lowering his ERA to 4.33 and holding hitters to a .239 average. However, walks continued to plague him as he allowed 23 in total, while also striking out 46 for a tidy 2:1 K to BB ration.He did win half of his starts that year (5) and managed to average close to 6 innings per start.

The 2007 season ended abruptly for Kyle due to the requirement for Tommy John surgery, but it seems that this may have been a blessing in disguise for him according to many in the industry. They believe that going through this adversity and to build a routine that would allow him to return to the mound as quickly as possible, while leaning on many others to help him through the process, would help build up his maturity level. Well, it seems that they may have been correct, because Kyle did come back strong after the surgery, as he proved in 2008 and 2009.

2008

The recovery progress that Kyle went through in 2007 and 2008 was a peculiar one in that he was assigned a person, a player in fact, who helped him go through the entire process. It’s not every day that you hear about a player being assigned someone, so it would be interesting to hear from Kyle himself how often they were together and how the assignment actually worked.

Mike Zagurski, a veteran minor league pitcher who had also gone through the same surgery, was the person “assigned” to Kyle, as stated in the quick facts above. For a feel good story about Mike, now 27, he also made it back to form and found his way back to the majors (in 2010) after getting a cameo in 2007. He pitched in 8 games for the Phillies, allowed 8 hits in 7 innings of work while striking out 11. He did very well in AAA as well and could earn himself a spot in the Phillies pen this season as a lefty specialist (he hasn’t allowed an ER in 3 IP thus far in spring training).

His work with Kyle must have been successful, as Kyle came back from TJ surgery in time to make 8 starts in 2008, quite a feat for someone who had the surgery in June of 2007. He made half of his start in the GCL and did so well (2.25 ERA / 6 hits in 12 IP) that the Phillies moved him up to the NYP league for his last 4 starts. He didn’t disappoint there either, finishing his time there with an average of 5 innings per start (20.1 IP in 4 starts), a 2.21 ERA, and a .159 average against.  Overall, Kyle did allow 12 walks in 32 innings of work in 2008, but showed without a doubt that the Phillies had a lot to look forward to in 2009. Although he played a minimal amount of time in 2008, it was enough to secure the 5th spot on Baseball America’s top prospects list for the Phillies prior to the 2009 season.

2009

If you want to know when things started to come together for Kyle, it’s the 2009 season. It was the first time that scouts all over could point to his season and say “see, that’s what he did, and that’s what we told you he could do”.  He dominated hitters while making 9 starts for HiA Clearwater, going 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA and a .218 average against. That performance earned Kyle one pitcher of the week award (1st of June ’09) and earned him a spot amongst the mid-season FSL all-stars and a Futures Game Selection.

The accolades were just beginning to role in, and he proved worthy of his promotion to AA. Kyle only lost 2 of his 14 starts during his first taste of AA and won more than half of his starts (8). He allowed fewer than 1 hit per game (92 in 96.1 IP), struck out 72, and allowed a reasonable .252 average against. His ERA was higher than it had been in HiA, but still very respectable at 3.64.

When asked what the biggest difference was in pitching in AA as compared to HiA, Kyle had this to say:

“From [Class A Advanced] to Double-A, I thought it was a big jump in how good the hitters were and how tight the strike zone got.”

The most impressive thing about that season was that he was a 21-year old Tommy John surgery survivor pitching in AA for the majority of the season. Here he was, having lost an entire year of development, something that would have pushed other pitchers back a step or two, competing at a level that is filled with older competitors. He threw a whopping 158 innings that season, proving that he was healthy and ready to take the next – and final – step towards making it to The Show.

For his efforts, Kyle had been ranked the 3rd best Eastern League prospect by Baseball America, falling only behind Pedro Alvarez (1) and Madison Bumgarner (2). He also was ranked the 25th best prospects by BA amongst their top 100 list. Oddly enough, some people still saw him as a reliever instead of a starter, making the leap that he may be used in the Phillies pen as early as 2010. Thankfully for the Phillies, Kyle, and the Blue Jays, that was not the road taken.

Little did Kyle know that his opportunity to pitch in The Show would not come with the Phillies. The Toronto Blue Jays had been heavily scouting him for a long period of time and had asked about him repeatedly in the Roy Halladay trade talks. The Blue Jays were unsuccessful in acquiring Kyle as part of a package for Doc while under the helm of JP Ricciardi in most part because he wouldn’t allow the Phillies to negotiate an extension with Roy Halladay before the deal was done. In came Alex Anthopoulos, a change in philosophy, the opportunity to work out an extension (which was agreed upon between Halladay and the Phillies), and voila, Kyle Drabek became a Toronto Blue Jay.

Alex Anthopoulos said this about the acquisition:

“We think all three of these players fit into our philosophy going forward of having some exciting, young, controllable players. These players are ones that we feel are going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward.”

And added this about the time-line to get Kyle Drabek – and others – to the majors:

“It’s easy for us to be short-sighted, just to want to get these guys up here to show the fans how exciting they are, but really we have a plan in place. When they do get up here, it’s for them to stay. We want to make sure we get the development done. We don’t need to rush. This is all about the long-term plan, building a core and developing these guys the right way.”

It was an indication that the Jays were going to be patient with Kyle, and that once he made the rotation, he would be there for good.

2010

Having earned the respect he deserved for making big strides, both on and off the mound, Kyle took to the mound for the New Hampshire Fishercats in 2010 and improved himself all season long. His ERA improved from April (3.49) to May (2.75), had a bump in June (4.45), but was lowest in July (1.97) and August (1.86). The bump in June was seemingly not due to hitters getting more hits off Drabek, as he only allowed a .223 average against that month. Kyle wound up leading the EAS league in wins and finished in the top 5 in most categories. That earned him all-star appearances at mid and end season, as well as the top-pitcher award for the entire season. This after winning 14 games for the Fishercats and pitching a strong 162 innings overall, something that should allow him to pitch an entire season in The Show if he makes the rotation this spring, as is expected.

The highlight of the season for Kyle was a no-hitter complete game, the first ever in Fishercats history, that you can catch highlights of on YouTube. It was an indication that he had learned all that he could learn in AA and that he may very well be ready for a shot in the majors. But, there were still some lingering doubts.

Some people point to his walks in 2010 as being worrisome since he allowed 68. It’s not that Kyle doesn’t seem to trust his stuff enough to throw strikes, it’s just that he seems to be too fine with some of his pitches on occasion or misses his spots. Whatever the case, it’s something that many young pitchers struggle with and is something that can be refined fairly quickly with the proper instruction.

The Jays gave Kyle a shot to prove himself at the end of the season and he at least got through his 3 starts without scaring anyone off. He lost all 3 games, but did manage to last 17 innings (close to 6 innings per start) and only allowed close to 1 hit per inning (18 hits in 17 IP) with 5 walks. He didn’t dominate, but he did show he belonged and deserved to get a shot in 2011.

Asked about his 3 game performance and what he learned from it, Kyle Answered:

“Just little things here and there from the players. When I got called up, I tried to learn as much as I could so I could take whatever I learned and take it into next year. The way you handle yourself on the mound is a big part of the game. You have to be able to stay calm out there to help yourself throughout the game.”

If that’s not a big check mark in the lessons learned category, I don’t know what is. Here we have a young man who was hammered repeatedly about his ability to handle himself talking about exactly that and about how important it is overall. With that final check mark, along with enough experience and a refined 3rd pitch in his pocket, Kyle Drabek is taking his bucket of skills to The Show in 2011, and is ready to show everyone what the Jays were able to nab in return for the best pitcher in their franchise history. If he even approaches the professionalism and skills that Roy Halladay displayed as a Blue Jay, the Jays and their fans are in for a nice long ride.

Expected 2011 Team: Toronto Blue Jays

Ultimate ceiling IF he puts it all together: #1 starter

The doubters can keep doubting while he learns to improve his stuff, but I fully expect that Kyle will one day develop into a true #1 starter and that he will be within the top contenders for some Cy Young awards during his career. There may be some bumps in the road here and there, but his competitive drive and pure stuff are just too strong for him to not continuously improve himself year-over-year.I think that Alex Anthopoulos deserves a lot of credit for getting this great arm in the Halladay deal, as so many other traded aces have resulted in a lack of real return for the team that deals the ace (the Twins trading Johan Santana is a perfect example). He got top ranked players and pitchers, and the Jays are about to reap the rewards of his ability to get the most out of the Halladay deal.

As this ends our top 50 Jays prospects list for 2010, we truly hope you’ve enjoyed the rankings. We still have more than 20 on the way through a list of Jays prospects we believe could crack the top 50 next year, and will also be updating the top 50 at mid-season. I know Jared and I have enjoyed learning more about the Jays prospects and we hope it’s added something that was lacking to your knowledge of the best the Jays have to offer in the minors.

– MG

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Tags: Alex Anthopoulos Kyle Drabek Roy Halladay

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