BY ROB SHAW
Kyle Drabek was a top prospect when the Blue Jays acquired him from the Phillies for perennial Cy Young contender Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays fan base was hoping that Drabek would be able to make an immediate impact, but that did not occur at all in 2010, as the son of former Pirates All-Star Doug Drabek found some success at Double-A, while also walking four batters per nine innings. That is a statistic that Drabek could get away with in the minor leagues, but a different story in the Majors. Drabek lost all three starts in 2010.
Last season, it was assumed that Drabek would hold a spot in the starting rotation, and sure enough he did open the season with the Blue Jays. The stay did not last long as he ended the season with just 14 starts and a 6.06 ERA. The main issue was his lack of control, as he ranked as the worst in the Major Leagues in BB/9 as well as BB/K.
Now 24 years old, Drabek is getting another opportunity this season and he shined bright in the first two games. In fact, Drabek walked just one batter in his second start as he pitched into the eighth inning and surrendered just one earned run to a solid Orioles offense. Suddenly, Drabek was again en vogue and was a hot pickup in fantasy baseball.
Alas, doubt has returned to the mind of this fantasy expert. Even though Drabek remains undefeated with a 2-0 record and the Blue Jays have won all three of his starts, his control was lost in his last start, as he issued six walks in 5.1 innings. The fact that the Royals did not capitalize has a lot to do with Drabek’s ability to miss bats (he boasts 15 K’s in 18 innings) and a little bit of luck.
On Thursday, the Orioles face Drabek for the second time this season. In many ways, Drabek remains a wild card as he has great stuff, including a 94 MPH heater with movement, but if his control is lost the numbers could take a hit. I’d expect a bit of regression for the next few months of the season. I see Drabek offering up an ERA closer to four and could end up on a career path similar to fellow Blue Jays hurler Brandon Morrow. In other words, Drabek is not for the risk adverse. He will have moments of glory, but also fits of frustration.
Young starting pitching is always at a premium in the real world, and often in the fantasy world. As such, serious leagues demand its owners possess knowledge of the top prospects near and far the stage of the majors. With that stated, here are the 10 arms considered the finest pitching prospects in the land by Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office Tool:
1. Mike Minor
2. Jeremy Hellickson
3. Kyle Drabek
4. Chris Archer
5. Manuel Banuelos
6. Zachary Britton
7. Christian Friedrich
8. Kyle Gibson
9. Casey Kelly
10. John Lamb
The top three already have big league experience. Minor started eight games for the Braves last season, completing 40 innings while striking out 43 and walking 11. The former Vanderbilt attendee figures to start the season in the rotation and while he’s unlikely to replicate his 2010 numbers, he’s better than most fifth starters. Hellickson impressed as well, with a similar strikeout and walk rate. Although he’s hampered with a hamstring injury now, if healthy, the Des Moines native will open the season as the Rays’ fifth starter. Drabek’s entrance to the majors did not fare as well, but he’s a top prospect for a reason and could open the season in the Jays’ rotation too.
Archer is one of the jewels the Rays received in return for Matt Garza, he should open the season in Triple-A, but a big league stint near season’s end -perhaps in the bullpen–is not out of the question. Banuelos received hype for a recent appearance, but he’s just now turning 20 and it’s unlikely he’ll get much more than a cup of coffee this season. Britton, on the other hand, should debut this season, as he spent last season in the high minors and pitched fairly well, with sub-3 ERAs at both Double- and Triple-A and peripherals to match.
As for the rest, Gibson shot through the system and stands the best chance of appearing in the bigs this season. That doesn’t mean you should ignore arms like Lamb and Kelly in keeper leagues, though, as again, they have the pedigree for a reason. Just don’t get too infatuated with these guys, as pitching prospects are more volatile than hitting prospects.