This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Report on Kyle Drabek
The Phillies are on the verge of another World Series appearance (knock on wood, don't want to jinx it for Philadelphians), but prospect watchers cast their gaze at an intriguing farm system. The organization is a bit short on prospect depth, but there are still potential stars here, particularly outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor, and right-handed starter Kyle Drabek. Drabek is particularly fascinating and he's the subject of today's in-depth report.
The son of former major league pitcher Doug Drabek, Kyle was well-known to scouts as a high school pitcher in The Woodlands, Texas. He was also a good prospect as a position player, but most teams felt his upside was higher on the mound, earning him a spot in the first round of the 2006 draft, 18th overall. He might have gone slightly higher were it not for concerns about his makeup (more on that below). Drabek struggled in rookie ball (7.71 ERA with a 14/11 K/BB in 23 innings, 33 hits allowed) in '06, but improved somewhat in '07, with a 4.33 ERA in 10 starts for Class A Lakewood. Unfortunately he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery, which cost him almost all of 2008. He came back healthy and effective in 2009, re-emerging as an elite pitching prospect.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Drabek is a 6-1, 190 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born December 8th, 1987. A fine overall athlete, Drabek played a lot of shortstop in high school, and this athleticism helps him on the mound. He's a strong fielder and shows excellent baseball instincts, probably attributes picked up over the years from dad. It didn't help him avoid injury, but he seems fully recovered from Tommy John and regained his 92-94 MPH fastball this year. His curveball and changeup are also above average for his age cohort, giving him three solid pitches. Drabek's command within the strike zone will give him occasional problems, but that's normal for his age, and overall his control is very solid, giving him a strong combination of stuff and pitchability. His control improved a great deal this year, thanks to mechanical refinements the Phillies made during injury rehab. The main knock on Drabek has always been his personality. He's highly-competitive and hates to lose, but his intensity on the mound holds him back at times. He'll show visible frustration at misplays behind him, and while he's not quite the "wild child" he was in high school, his overall personality still alienates some observers. He's only 21 and still has time to outgrow this, but he'll likely always be an intense sort. That's not necessarily a bad thing, if he learns to channel it properly, and the Phillies insist he's done a lot of growing up during the rehab process.
Drabek's statistical performance pre-injury was actually quite mediocre, but he was much more effective in 2009. He started off with Clearwater in the Florida State League, going 4-1, 2.48 with a 74:19 K:BB ratio in 62 innings, allowing just 49 hits. Promoted to Double-A Reading at mid-season, he went 8-2, 3.64 with a 76:31 K:BB in 96 innings, allowing 92 hits, very good performance for a 21 year old in Double-A. Overall he went 12-3, 3.19 this year with a 150:50 K:BB in 158 innings, 141 hits allowed. His main weakness right now is a strong platoon split: lefties hit .284 against him this year, including .322 in Double-A, with, right-handers a mere .185 mark. Lefties had double the home run rate against him. He looked tired down the stretch and his performance tailed off (5.02 ERA in August with component ratio slippage across the board). They may have pushed his workload a little bit hard given the injury recovery, but overall his performance this year was very strong.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Drabek projects as a classic number two starter, with three above-average pitches combined with solid control. The main concerns are 1) any recurrence of injury and 2) the personality factor. He's made progress in the latter department, and time will tell about the former. It remains to be seen how aggressive the Phillies are with promoting him in 2010, but my guess is that we could see him sometime in the second half.
Article first appeared 10/21/09