Less than nine months after being the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade, 22-year-old Kyle Drabek will make his first big league start tomorrow night against the Orioles in Baltimore. Doug’s son just wrapped his first season in the Blue Jays’ organization, one in which he pitched to a 3.87 FIP with 7.33 K/9 in 27 starts (162 IP, a career high by just four innings) for the team’s Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire.
The statistical performance isn’t overwhelming, especially for a top prospect, but to understand how good Drabek can be you need to know what kind of stuff the kid brings to the table. ESPN’s Keith Law scouting Drabek during his last start, a tough luck loss in the playoffs in which he allowed one run on three hits and two walks in six innings of work, striking out five. Here’s a snippet of KLaw’s write-up from that outing (you need an Insider account to read the whole thing)…
… Wednesday night he brought the best stuff I’ve seen (or heard of) from him, with two plus-plus pitches and an aggressive approach. He started out 93-97 in the first inning and was 91-96 by the end of his outing, hitting 97 at least three times over the first two frames. His power curveball at 84-86 was a big league out pitch, with depth and a very sharp break — and he threw it for strikes in addition to burying it for swings and misses.
He barely used — or needed — his straight changeup, but it’s also not yet on par with the other two pitches. He worked to both sides of the plate and overpowered most of the hitters in Trenton’s weak lineup. Drabek takes a long stride toward the plate and generates great arm speed from it, although he doesn’t rotate his hips much and is off the rubber very quickly. I’m more concerned by his tendency to throw across his body when going to his glove side because of how he cuts himself off in his landing. Those two pitches do give him ace potential that I hadn’t seen from him, although the lack of a solid third offering and the minor delivery issues probably give him a realistic ceiling just below that.
Clearly, Drabek has the pure stuff needed to succeed in the big leagues, it’s just a question of whether or not he can take that next step, and how quickly he can do it. The big problem this year was walks; his 3.8 BB/9 in 2010 isn’t horrible, but certainly not what you usually see out of elite pitching prospects. Drabek is now two years out from Tommy John surgery, so his command should have come back by now. For what it’s worth, his BB/9 was a full walk lower at 2.8 last season and 3.8 before his surgery.
Chances are your league is deep in the playoffs now, so the idea of rolling the dice with a complete unknown – granted, a high-upside unknown – might not sit well with some. The Orioles are a below average hitting team against fastballs (-15.1 wFB) and one of the worst against curveballs (-14.1 wCB), Drabek’s two bread-and-butter pitches. Of course it’s not that simple, but if the righty avoids the rookie jitters and manages to throw like he’s capable of (and not overthrow, that’s the big thing), he’s a very good chance that he’ll have one of those blow-you-away debuts.
If you have a comfortable lead in ERA and WHIP (or are way behind, for that matter) and can afford to take a bit of a hit in those categories in exchange for some additional strikeouts and possibly a win, I can’t recommend Drabek enough. He’s owned in just 4% of Yahoo! leagues, so there’s not much urgency to go out and grab him before everyone else. Keep an eye out for the O’s lineup tomorrow; If Buck Showalter decides to go heavy on the September call-ups for some reason, then I’d grab Drabek before the game if your league allows it. Either way, Drabek’s real fantasy impact won’t come until at least next season.