Growing up the son of a Cy Young Award winner, Kyle Drabek learned long ago to shut off the noise from other people’s expectations and to simply be himself on the pitcher’s mound.
That mindset should serve the 21-year-old right-hander very well as he begins his career in the Toronto Blue Jays organization as one of they key returning components in the Roy Halladay trade.
Drabek understands some people will expect him to step right in to fill the ace right-hander’s shoes and while he knows better than to get caught up in that, he can still feel that weight. He just knows better than to let himself be burdened by it.
“He’s the best pitcher in the major leagues,” Drabek said Thursday in an interview from his home in The Woodlands, Texas. “To be traded for him with other guys but being the only pitcher, I feel a little bit more pressure.
“My dad (former all-star Doug Drabek) told me not to think about it, it’s the same thing, just go out there and pitch, pitch like you know how to and you should be fine.”
Drabek was acquired along with infielder Brett Wallace and catcher Travis d’Arnaud on Wednesday in the four-team, nine-player blockbuster that sent Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s widely regarded as a future front-of-the-rotation starter but has just 14 starts at double-A under his belt, so it’s unfair to expect too much from him too soon.
Still, with youngsters like Rick Porcello, David Price, Tommy Hanson, and Derek Holland all impressing in the majors last season, it’s not unreasonable to think that Drabek could debut at some point next year if his career trajectory continues along its current path.
Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos envisions Drabek starting the year at double-A New Hampshire but left the door open for bigger things if his new prospect earns it during spring training. And that’s precisely what Drabek plans to do.
“I just want to go in there and prove myself, hopefully surprise them, let them know that I’m ready,” he said.
With Halladay gone, the Blue Jays rotation — not to mention the entire franchise — is left with a gaping hole and the competition for several spots is wide open. Shaun Marcum, who should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, and Ricky Romero shape up as the only sure bets, with Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil two other leading candidates.
Also in the mix are Scott Richmond of North Vancouver, B.C., Brian Tallet, Lance Broadway, Brad Mills, Robert Ray and David Purcey, plus prospects Zach Stewart, Luis Perez, Reidier Gonzalez and Drabek. A veteran innings-eater to help stabilize and nurture the starting staff — and take some pressure off the bullpen — would help in a big way, but that may not come.
None of that is Drabek’s concern.
His main focus is building off a spectacular 2009 — his first full season since Tommy John surgery in 2007 — in which he went a combined 12-3 with a 3.19 ERA in 25 games, 23 starts, for single-A Clearwater and double-A Reading. One of the best ways for him to do that is by further developing his changeup, which would give him a third weapon to complement his 96 m.p.h. fastball and devastating curveball.
Also good for him is coming to an organization that wanted him as badly as the Blue Jays.
Philadelphia’s refusal to include Drabek in negotiations for Halladay and Toronto’s insistence on getting him led to a breakdown between the teams during the summer. Once the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee instead, Drabek figured his future was in their organization.
“Once it was over in the summer, I kind of thought it was over for good, so it kind of came as a surprise that it came up again,” he said. “The first time I heard about it was just a week ago.
“You know, emotionally, it felt weird I guess. I didn’t really know what to feel, I was excited, but then again not excited. Once I put on a Blue Jays jersey, it will kind of hit me. It definitely felt good that they wanted me, and now they’ve got me.”