Kyle Drabek has a ton of potential but has plenty of work to do in order to meet that potential. I had a chance to see him in action at Blue Jays Minor League Camp on Friday, March 19. Through he could someday feature four average or better offerings, currently only his curveball is consistent enough to be considered a plus pitch. Drabek's delivery has a couple of significant flaws, stemming from one important issue: his arm action.
Drabek's four-fastball was a bit of a question mark. Sitting 91-93 MPH, he was able to frequently locate it within the zone. The issue, however lies in his movement, or lack thereof. Drabek's fastball was one the straightest I’ve seen thus far in spring training. Topping out at 94 -- one time -- he overthrew his fastball on occasion, leaving it up and out of the zone. He also lost a few MPH on his fastball after two innings. While it has the potential to be an above-average pitch, Drabek's four-seam fastball is currently no better than average. Triple-A hitters were able to hit it regularly with pop.
His curveball may be the antithesis of his straight four-seamer. It was a plus offering yesterday and could be plus-plus in the future. Utilizing large 1-to-7 break, he was able to locate it consistently, locking up hitters in the process. Drabek's curveball sat at 78 MPH. He didn't throw it as often as I would have guessed, but he may have been working on his other, less stellar pitches. With excellent movement and command, Drabek is able to utilize his curveball as an out-pitch. It was his go-to offering when he had hitters in two-strike counts.
Drabek threw a steady dose of changeups. But it quickly became apparent that the 82-83 MPH offering currently is no more than average, as it wasn’t consistent (through 3+ IP). I say it was inconsistent because he battled through periods of control issues. In addition to his inability to consistently locate, he wasn’t able to sustain movement. It seemed that about half of his changeups lacked movement while the other half ran down and in to righties. With the combination of Drabek's lack of control and movement, hitters had no problem laying off anything remotely out of the zone. Drabek's change occasionally flashed above-average potential. The pitch as a whole needs work. Right now, it's not effective against below-replacement-level players.
His two-seam fastball sat at 91 MPH in the first two innings or so and dropped to 88-90 in innings three and four. No matter what the velocity, he was able to get decent down and in movement on a righthander. His location varied but was pretty solid throughout the outing. He struggled throwing the pitch against lefthanded hitters, where he seemed to miss an inch or two outside. He was able to induce three to four ground outs with his two-seamer when he kept it down in the zone. Like his change-up, it was too inconsistent to call more than an average pitch right now. But the potential is definitely there, as shown by some of the movement and command. With some work, he should see a few more groundballs his two-seamer.
His slider looked to be a work in progress, as he only threw it twice yesterday. Hitting 83 MPH on the gun, both pitches ended up in the dirt, making it hard to get an idea of the movement. It became obvious that Drabek's slider isn’t something the Blue Jays are stressing currently. It may, however, be something to watch this season, as he could integrate the pitch more as he gains comfort and confidence.
Starting slightly offset before beginning his motion, Drabek has a very smooth looking delivery. He takes a very small step toward first base before raising his leg to his jersey letters. He has a very balanced power stance, with his back leg slightly bent and his hands still together before he begins his delivery to the plate. As his leg begins to drop, he drops his hands simultaneously, allowing for plenty of time to start his arm circle. Watching from the time his hands separate, a potential issue develops as his stride foot lands before he completes his arm circle. His arm is far from up as he begins his turn. This causes a significant amount of stress on the shoulder, as he has to work hard to get his arm in a position to throw.
To compensate for the amount of effort he employs to get his arm up and maintain velocity, Drabek naturally leans to the first base side of the mound. This helps to force his arm to a fully cocked position, and thus ready it to deliver the pitch. By leaning drastically to compensate for his late arm action, his balance is compromised.
Looking at his mechanics as a whole, Drabek's arm enters the driveline drastically late, enough so to effect his balance and ability to locate his pitches. This is an issue that also causes plenty of stress on a shoulder, which makes me wonder about his ability to stay healthy enough to handle a starter's workload.
As it stands now, I think Drabek may need another full year of seasoning before making the jump to the major league level, that is unless he makes considerable progress with his pitches and mechanics. The guy I saw yesterday would be no more than a No. 4-5 starter if inserted into a rotation next week. Drabek could turn into a solid No. 3 starter. He won't be a No. 1-2 unless he figures out a way to add a few MPH to his four-seamer or more movement to his two-seamer.