When Kyle Drabek was in the Phillies organization, he was a huge prospect whose Major League debut Phillies fans feverishly anticipated.
Ditto his status in the Blue Jays organization.
After the Double-A Fisher Cats season ended, instead of letting him sit at home, Drabek got the call from Toronto. For his debut he pitched a solid six innings against the Baltimore Orioles, and allowed 3 earned runs on 9 hits. Most baseball people believed that's exactly what they'd get out of Drabek at this stage. It was a good showcase of all his talents.
There was immediate reaction and the narrative was that Drabek should have been brought up earlier.
Had Drabek been given a spot in the rotation sometime in July or August, he would've been a huge boon to the Blue Jays pitching staff. But instead he continued compiling innings at Double-A New Hampshire, finishing the season with a career-high 162 innings pitched. HIS 2.94 ERA and 132 strikeouts.
While it often felt as if you were watching a Major League pitcher in the minors, the righthander made it clear when asked that he was focused on where he was, not where he would be. Or when.
"No, not really," he said casually when I questioned him about wondering when he'd get to pitch for the big club.
Had he remained with the Phillies and there was no trade for Roy Halladay, he might have already been in the rotation. That would have meant less developmental innings for Drabek. While the Phillies hit the jackpot with that trade, perhaps it was the best thing for him.
Rushing a prospect when he's needed is part of the game. Sometimes the club can't stay patient and they take a chance. A kid gets the call when someone goes down to injury early in the season. It is all good experience. But Drabek's bell rang in mid-September when rosters were expanding.
2010 was a hugely successful year for him in every area of his game.
When conducting a poll for Project Prospect http://projectprospect.com/article/2010/09/14/poll-eastern-leagues-top-player, Drabek came out on top, his ability to baffle hitters by keeping them guessing was mentioned often.
And although Drabek and Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg are two very different kinds of pitchers, it's hard not to look at the difference in paths. Strasburg's miracle-worker status put him on the fast-track to the majors and he logged just 55 innings between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He pitched a total of 68 innings and posted a 2.91 ERA before an elbow injury that forced him to have Tommy John surgery.
Drabek's development has been a study in patience. It was an experience for him in keeping his mind anxiety-free clear back to the early trade talks when he was still with the Phillies.
Pedigree might have had a lot to do with his mentality. The twenty-three year old has constantly credited his father for keeping him on an even keel whenever conversation heated up about him in the mass media. Doug Drabek, a former Cy Young Award winner, spent 12 years pitching in the majors. Kyle also spends a lot of time in the off-season working on his pitching with his father. While the exact impact is unmeasurable, it can't be undervalued.
Further developing his change-up and arm strength was also another reward in waiting. The change-up was the one pitch he frequently mentioned as a work-in-progress. And having witnessed his maturity as a person from Reading to New Hampshire was also impressive.
On Tuesday he will make his third and final start for the Toronto Blue Jays. That test will be against the New York Yankees.
Drabek is a guy with a firm grasp of taking his time to learn. He's never shown any signs of being overwhelmed by the attention or expectations.
Perhaps we could all learn something from Kyle Drabek.