In 2009, freshly minted GM Alex Anthopoulos was faced with the task of trading (arguably) one of the games best pitchers of all time.
Roy Halladay, with a year left on his contract as a Blue Jay, had been vocal about his desire to play for a contending team following his tenure with Toronto. Rather than getting another stellar season out of the teams Ace and watching him elect Free Agency in the off season, Anthopoulos decided to make a trade in hopes of securing a return on the perennial All Star.
News broke that a 3 team deal was in the works between Philadelphia, Seattle & Toronto that involved a handful of prospects (2 of them being Canadian), Cash and 2 Cy Young Award winners.
To Seattle went Cliff Lee. Philadelphia picked up 6 million in cash, 1st round draft pick Phillippe Aumont, Mariners RHP J.C Ramirez, OF prospect Tyson Gillies and Toronto’s Ace Roy Halladay while the Blue Jays were dealt top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, Outfielder Michael Taylor and a young Pitcher named Kyle Drabek.
Taylor was immediately flipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace and the trio including both d’Arnaud and Drabek were sent into Toronto’s Minor League system.
Wallace would go on to hit .301 with 18 HR’s for AAA Vegas and eventually be used as trade bait in a deal with Houston that brought Anthony Gose to Toronto. d’Arnaud won the Eastern League MVP in 2011 with his ever improving defense and .311 BA. Drabek (who was touted to be the center piece in the Halladay trade from a Toronto perspective) found success in the minors throwing a no hitter before skipping AAA all together and being called up to the Bigs in 2010.
Drabek, had experienced a great deal of success at every level he had pitched and would show flashes of brilliance during the next 2 seasons but ended up struggling and eventually found himself demoted to AAA Las Vegas.
At times, Drabeks struggles appeared to be more mental than physical as he had a hard time adapting to the competition at the MLB level. His stuff was electric but he had fallen into a pattern of coming out of his delivery when things didn’t go his way on the mound, a habit often found in young & developing pitchers.
After falling to 4-5 with a 6.06 ERA in 2011, Drabek was sent to the last place a pitcher wants to find himself battling for a spot in a Big League rotation… The Pacific Coast League.
Perhaps the demotion was designed to get Drabek used to pitching in tough situations as the PCL is notorious for being a hitter friendly league with its small ball parks and lack of breaking pitch control. At the end of the 2011 season, Drabek found himself with a 5-4 record to go with a 7.44 ERA in 15 games with Vegas.
Spring Training represented a fresh start for Drabek. Knowing that he would be up against some tough competition for a Rotation spot on the big club, Drabek worked tirelessly on adjusting his delivery to the plate in an attempt to be stronger on the mound. Aside from discovering a new way of staying in his lanes, Drabek and the Blue Jays coaching staff found that the young RHP could dial up his 2 Seam Fastball to nearly the same velocity as the 4 Seam while continuing to locate.
The difference between 2 and 4 Seam Fastballs is movement, sharp movement that can effectively keep MLB hitters on their toes. A 4 Seam Fastball is often regarded as the easiest pitch to control while offering the most velocity available where as a 2 Seamer is known to break sharply as it approaches the plate inducing weak contact off the bat.
Pitching with a renewed mental approach, Drabek battled all spring finishing camp with a 2-0 record en route to breaking camp as the teams 5th starter.
Fast forward a month and you find that at 2.40, Drabek has posted a lower ERA than Justin Verlander while picking up a pair of wins in the process. The 24 year old has allowed 8 ER’s off of 23 hits in 30 innings pitched this season and when he has struggled, he’s kept his cool and continued to attack the opposition with confidence, a sign that he is maturing as a ball player.
Monday night was the perfect microcosm of the way Drabek’s season has gone thus far. Texas came into the game featuring one of the most dominant offenses in the American League having put together a 16-6 record to begin the season. Despite putting together some great numbers in his first 4 starts, not many people gave Kyle a chance in the tilt that featured the Toronto debut of Yu Darvish.
The Rangers plated runs in both the 2nd and 3rd innings off of a pair of Doubles however Drabek kept his composure on the mound and battled, inducing some timely ground balls to get out of trouble. Drabek nearly matched Darvish pitch for pitch racking up 8 Strikeouts and walking 2 in his 6 innings on the mound.
The fact that the Ranges offense is on fire could raise the argument that despite being credited with the loss, Drabek actually out pitched Darvish in the match up. It should come as no surprise that Darvish practically mowed down the Blue Jays offense given his numbers and the fact that the team has struggled with the sticks this season. That being said, this is Baseball and anything could have happened.
Guy Spurrier of the National Post points out that statistically, Drabek is in better shape at this point of the season than he was in 2011.
ERA 3.30 2.40
Opp AVG .229 .217
Opp OBP .341 .311
Strikeouts 21 26
Walks 17 15
Innings Pitched 30 30
Although it’s still early on in the season, Drabek has shown a lot of promise in his 30 innings pitched. Promise that back in 2009, Anthopoulos and the rest of the Blue Jays staff had on their radar.