Drabek learning from both failure and success
Former top-20 pitching prospect fizzled after hot start in 2011
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A year ago tomorrow, Kyle Drabek recorded his second win of the 2011 Grapefruit League season and seemed to be on a promising path toward greatness.
The son of former Major League pitcher Doug Drabek had compiled a 2-0 record with a 3.27 ERA and 10 strikeouts over 10 innings. More than anything else -- an above-average cut fastball and sinker, a power curveball, the development of a substantial changeup -- the 6-foot-1, 220-pound right-hander's maturity and emotional development had outshined his physical skill set.
"What he showed in his last outing was very good emotional control," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said at the time. "He didn't show the tendency to overthrow, he didn't try to strike everybody out, he still maintained the same approach and I think that speaks volumes to what's going on inside him. When you combine that harnessing of emotions with the physical abilities, we'll be very pleased to have [him] go to the mound every five days."
Drabek broke camp with the Blue Jays after allowing just six runs, five earned, in 16 innings with 14 strikeouts and one walk. Once labeled as a surefire frontline starter, the former top-20 prospect appeared to be on the fast track to making a name for himself, or so it seemed.
But after pitching well in his first three starts of the 2011 campaign -- posting a 1.93 ERA over 18 2/3 innings, Drabek suddenly began a rapid decline, eventually reaching a point where the Blue Jays decided to option him to Triple-A Las Vegas on June 14.
At the time of his demotion, Drabek had gone 4-5 with a 5.70 ERA through 14 starts with 52 walks and just 48 strikeouts over 72 2/3 innings.
Drabek struggled to find success in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, as well, going 5-4 with a 7.44 ERA for Las Vegas.
This spring, the 24-year-old Drabek realizes the entire process boils down to learning and growing in a positive direction.
"Besides all the mechanical things I've learned to change and the things I've learned about how to pitch and adapt in certain situations, the biggest thing has just been understanding how to use the negative in a positive way," said Drabek, who looked sharp in his third Grapefruit League appearance on Thursday in which he allowed one unearned run and one hit over three innings against the Astros.
"In the offseason, I talked with my dad about it and he told me to learn from your mistakes and from your achievements. I learned how to handle myself on the mound. Being a rookie, I might not have gotten all the calls I wanted, but things are going to happen and you just have to accept it."
Drabek arrived at camp in February and was tasked with throwing his bullpen sessions between a pair of yellow lines on the mound.
The goal was to force Drabek to stay on line while in his delivery and not tail off to the first-base side. That's been working relatively well as Drabek attempts to put last year's disappointing season behind him.
"This spring is a little different, learning new mechanics and learning so much from last year that it's kind of I feel I'm a lot better than where I was last year," said Drabek, who now has a 4.50 spring ERA with four strikeouts and two walks in six innings.
The effort level seems to be paying off in terms of opening the eyes of his manager.
"I wouldn't say he's totally on the outside looking in [for a roster spot]," Farrell said. "The most encouraging thing is he's been able to take some of the work done pre-Spring Training and in the early phases of camp and taken them out to the mound. While we come into camp with somewhat of a penciled-in plan for everybody, that's somewhat subject to change. It depends what they do in between the lines and he's affecting it in a positive way."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.