The pedigree is there but the strikeouts haven't been in the minor leagues, which raises a question about Kyle Drabek: Can you ever become an ace in the American League East without punching out a parade of batters? To their credit, the Toronto Blue Jays have always stopped just short of saying that Drabek is a surefire ace. Sotto voce, they'll tell you he might be a No. 2 starter at the top end, which is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. Still, as a highly regarded pitching prospect whose father was a stalwart Major League starter and who is considered the centrepiece in the Blue Jays' forced trade of Roy Halladay, it is permissible to wonder what exactly the top end is for Drabek. With the Blue Jays on their final day off of the spring, general manager Alex Anthopoulos watched Drabek work through six innings at the Bobby Mattick Training Centre on Monday against the New York Yankees' Triple-A farmhands. Drabek struck out four, walked three and allowed five hits without giving up an earned run, but, most importantly, he continued to pound the strike zone low and hone the changeup that is needed by every dominant starting pitcher. He also corrected a tendency to put his body offline with his delivery. His fastball settled in at 93 to 95 miles an hour and he threw back-to-back changeups that were 85 and 86 miles an hour. Damned near rote, the whole thing was. Anthopoulos has heard the chatter about Drabek, who has averaged 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor-league career. Yes, we are still attracted by gaudy numbers. His response is to focus on Drabek's rate of ground-ball outs – 50 per cent at Double-A New Hampshire last season, 62 per cent in three Major League starts – with the former number representing a 7-per-cent increase from the 15 games Drabek pitched at Double-A in 2009, when he was still with the Philadelphia Phillies. Further, Anthopoulos urges a quick perusal of some of the numbers put up by the Boston Red Sox's Clay Buchholz: 17 wins, seven losses, a 2.33 earned-run average and 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in the majors to go with a 52-per-cent ground-ball percentage. In 2010, according to Stats Inc., the major league average ground-ball percentage was 45 per cent.
What now for Kyle Drabek?
The Globe and Mail | Mar 22