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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Spotlight on Kyle Drabek 

The Phillies season kicked off … sort of … with the Phillies 12-4 victory over the Florida State Seminoles. The game was clearly exhibition for the Phillies, who hammered the young Seminoles with a home run by Chase Utley and timely hits by Pat Burrell. Hey, Ryan Howard scored from first base on one of Burrell's doubles!

Today the Phillies face-off with the Detroit Tigers, last year’s miracle team and near-champions.

On the mound for the Phillies last night was Kyle Drabek, who surrendered a lead-off home run to the Seminoles before settling down. While Drabek struggled a little against the Seminoles at various points, try to remember that Drabek is actually younger than some of the Seminoles.

Drabek was one of the Phillies two first-round picks in the 2006 draft. Just eighteen years old (nineteen now), the Woodlands High School graduate and son of former Major Leaguer Doug Drabek was the Phillies first pick, just a few spots ahead of Shortstop Adrian Cardenas. Baseball America evaluated Drabek this way:

There may not be a more gifted player than Drabek in this draft, but he also comes with makeup concerns. On the mound, he shows better stuff than his father, former Cy Young Award winner Doug. Though he's 5-foot-11, he has the arm speed
to deliver 94-95 mph fastballs and top out at 97. His best pitch may be his 78-82 mph spike curveball, which is all but unhittable. The lone knock on the pitch is that he relies on it too much. "He has as good an arm as anyone," an American League scouting director said. "When his fastball and curve are on, he
has the best two-pitch combination in the draft." Drabek has a decent slider and feel for a changeup, though he rarely needs to use either at this point. He finishes a bit upright in his delivery, but his mechanics are otherwise sound and the ball comes out of his hand easily. He could also make a case for being the best high school position player in the draft, as he's a comparable hitter to New Jersey's Bill Rowell and would have a better shot at playing shortstop as a pro. Yet some teams are backing away from Drabek. He's high-strung on the field, and there are off-field issues as well, but he'll still go in the middle of the first round.

Intrigued, the Phillies brought Drabek aboard, continuing a trend the team has had in recent years of stockpiling pitchers in the draft. Baseball America rates seven pitchers amongst the Phillies top ten prospects, including five of the top six. Drabek rates as the Phillies second-best prospect, right after Lakewood hurler Carlos Carrasco.

After being picked the Phillies sent Drabek to the Gulf Coast League (GCL) to play with the Phillies rookie team down in Clearwater. Drabek started six games for the GCL Phillies, going 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA. Here is a brief summary of his six starts:

July 15: Minor-League debut. Loss. Threw one inning and surrendered three earned runs on four hits and a walk. Struck one batter out.

July 22: No-decision. Threw four innings and struck out two. Walked four batters and allowed four hits on his way to surrendering five earned runs.

August 1: Loss. Threw five innings and gave up four runs on seven hits. Got two strike-outs and didn’t allow a walk.

August 7: Win. Went five innings and didn’t surrender a run. Scattered just three hits and a walk while striking out five batters.

August 12: Loss. Drabek made his sole road start of the season. Went just three and a third innings, allowing a whopping eight runs on ten hits and two walks. Also allowed the only two home runs for the season in the third inning. Drabek struck-out just two batters.

August 17: No-decision. Drabek allowed no earned runs and scattered five hits and three walks in five innings of work, striking two batters out. While Drabek didn’t allow a run, he did allow eight base-runners in just five innings, too high a percentage to be successful in the long-run.

I actually have confidence in Drabek’s long-term development as a player. In 2006 he allowed 70 balls to be put into play, thirty-five of which were groundballs, twenty-three were fly-balls, ten were line-drives and two were pop flies. The average Phillie and the average Major Leaguer had 44% of the balls put into play be grounders, while Drabek put 50% into play as grounders, a massive benefit for the team given that Citizens Bank Ballpark is so unfriendly to flyball pitchers. Phillies pitchers allowed 21% of the balls put into play to be Line-Drives, of which approximately 3/4 fall for hits. Drabek allowed just 14% of his balls put into play to be Line-Drives. What these stats tell me is that Drabek was done in, partly, by bad defense. The Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) that the GCL Phillies posted behind Drabek was just .586, an absurdly terrible percentage that won’t be repeated in 2007. The GCL Phillies played terrible baseball behind Drabek and he’ll enjoy better defense in the future. As long as Drabek can improve upon his control, the quality of the defense behind him will catch up. Tellingly, the Phillies allowed four unearned runs when Drabek pitched, for a 1.54 UERA.

Check out the differences between Drabek and the rest of the GCL:

Drabek / GCL
HR/9: 0.77 / 0.34
BB/9: 4.24 / 3.26
K/9: 5.40 / 7.57
K/BB: 1.27 / 2.32

Control, allowing too many cheap base runners, was Drabek’s problem in 2006. Once he fixes those issues he’ll turn into a good pitcher. More tomorrow!

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