In a division that is filled with talented, young starters, Kyle Drabek of the Toronto Blue Jays has flown a bit under the radar. That has more to do with the multitude of talent that surrounds him in the division than it does Drabek, who was considered a top-15 prospect by some. Nonetheless, the key piece of the Roy Halladay return and the organization’s top prospect according to Marc Hulet, quietly entered the season as member of Toronto’s rotation.
The son of a former Cy Young award winner (obligatory Doug Drabek mention) made his major-league debut last season. In the small sample size of three starts, he posted decent results; however, we’re talking about 17 innings of work. Looking past the results, his fastball which was consistently in mid-90’s fastball and his plus curveball both matched scouting reports from the minors. While his strikeout rate was around average, he showed the ability to miss bats at an above-average rate. Following him from his time as a minor leaguer was the ability to induce ground balls in bunches.
After his first start in 2011, Drabek continued to show that all of the pitching talent in the American League East doesn’t reside south of the Canadian border. He took a no-hitter into the six innings against the Minnesota Twins and allowed just one earned run on one hit and three walks in seven innings. His command of the strike zone was a bit off; however, he was able to navigate through those seven innings in just over 100 pitches and strike out seven.
One key reason Drabek was able to work around his wildness was his ground-ball ability. Of the 13 balls put in play against him, 11 of them resulted in groundball outs. Pitching in one of the more home run friendly parks in the game, allowing one fly ball will greatly diminish the chances of ball going over the fence. Of course, he will not put up a 78% ground-ball rate going forward. That said, so far he is showing that, unlike some pitchers who see their GB% fall when they reach majors, he may be able to sustain an above-average rate.
We talked about the fastball and curveball above, but it looked like his best weapon from this weekend was a cut-fastball. A few scouting types- including Ben Badler of Baseball America- talked about the cutter’s effectiveness throughout the afternoon. The pitch had enough movement to be mistakenly classified as a curveball according to Brooksbaseball.net’s pitch f/x data. Even Denard Span noted how ridiculous the pitch was after the game, adding the Twins were lucky they did not get no-hit for the entire game.
As Eric Seidman pointed out last week, it is easy to get swept up in the hype during the first few weeks of the season. There is a non-zero chance it could happen, but nobody expects Drabek to post a pitching slash line (ERA/FIP/xFIP) of 1.29/2.40/2.61 this season. On the other hand, given his prospect pedigree and the process displayed on Saturday – mixing four pitches against batters on both sides of the plate – Drabek could have a handful of performances like he did this Saturday throughout the 2011 season. I’m sure that’s just what the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles wanted to hear.