On the morning that Roy Halladay drew the Baseball Tonight tour bus (yes, that really exists) and many national media figures to Clearwater, I thought it was a good time to drive 10 minutes to Dunedin, Fla. and visit Kyle Drabek.
Remember him? So much attention has been focused on the Phils dealing Cliff Lee, that it’s easy to forget that they also gave up their best pitching prospect since Cole Hamels (an informal poll of Phillies players and coaches this week, by the way, revealed a pretty consistent attitude about the whole deal in the clubhouse—basically “when we first heard about dealing Lee, we were like, ‘Wha???,’ but then we heard about the whole restocking the farm system thing and it made sense. And it was a no-brainer to deal a prospect like Drabek for Halladay.”).
Anyway, I found Drabek in a nearly empty clubhouse at about 8:30 this morning (Toronto's sprng training does not begin until Monday), wearing his new colors. He said that he learned about the trade the way so many modern athletes do: Watching basketball last December with a few buddies at home in Texas, the pitcher saw his name crawl across the bottom of the television screen.
Alongside it were more prominent names like Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and it occurred to Drabek that his career might suddenly have veered in a different direction.
“It was a total shock,” he said. “That was the first things that I saw. My friends all wanted me to call my agent and see if I’d been traded.”
Drabek made the call, but his agent had not yet heard from any of the teams mentioned in the reports. The next morning, he did hear from the Phillies, who confirmed to their former top prospect that he was part of that complicated series of deals involving four teams.
“Initially, I think he was a shell-shocked, and he didn’t know what to expect,” said Phillies pitcher Mike Zagurski, Drabek’s best friend in the organization. “Now he’s getting to meet some of the guys, and kind of realizing that they are no different than what we have here.”
The two were roommates in 2008, when both were recovering from reconstructive shoulder surgery, and Drabek has long credited Zagurski, 27, with helping him mature. In 2005, Drabek was arrested for public intoxication, and while the charges were later dropped, he found it difficult to shed the reputation as a troublemaker.
“I’m not going to take credit for turning his life around, but I think maybe at times I kept him in the right direction,” said Zagurski. “But anyone who knows Kyle knows that he’s like everybody else. There are times when he likes to have a good time, but that stuff is certainly not as severe as what you hear.”
Drabek is working on a change-up to supplement his highly-regarded fastball and curveball. He will likely spend more time in triple-A this year, to develop that pitch. “That was one thing last year that definitely still needed a lot of work,” he said.
More on Drabek in the paper tomorrow.
I asked Carlos Ruiz today what it was like to catch Halladay’s bullpen session yesterday.
“Oh my God, it was amazing,” he said, describing a cutter that broke right and left with perfect precision, a heavy sinker, and an impressive change-up.