This is the second part of a series of posts on the keys to the 2010 season. Part I, where we introduced and laid out all the keys is here. In these next posts, we will be discussing each key in depth, elaborating on both its importance and how much we can reasonably expect and hope to see.
1. Kyle Drabek -- Even if Drabek doesn't throw one pitch at the major league level this season, his performance down in the minors is key to the Blue Jays future. Fairly or not, the Doc deal will be scrutinized all season long and because Drabek was the centrepiece, from the perspective of many of the graders, it won't matter how well Brett Wallace and Travis d'Arnaud do if Drabek really falls flat on his face. The fate of Alex Anthopoulos could rest on Drabek's performance over the next few years.
In my opinion, there are a few pertinent questions here. First, why does it matter how well Drabek does if he's not pitching in the majors? Second, how well should we hope for Drabek to do? And the third and final question relates to how confident should we be that he will do that well?
Well, the importance of Drabek's performance is so great for two reasons. In the first place, because he is such an important piece of their future, they are going to be depending on him for a long time. This will be his first whole season in the high minors and it is vital to see that he can maintain and perhaps even improve on his solid strikeout-, (7.1 K/9), walk- (2.9 BB/9) and groundball- (42.7%) rates over almost 100 innings at AA last season. Not only are those rates at AA quite good, Drabek absolutely dominated A+ ball (10.8 K/9; 2.8 BB/9; 45.2% GB over 61 2/3 IP) and that had been his first taste at A+ ball as well. Nonetheless, Drabek has had Tommy John surgery and last season was his first full season back, so as Jays fans we should be holding our collective breath a bit, if only in an overly cautious way. We all know the history this club has with young pitchers, so none of us really have good reason not be cautious with the way Drabek is handled.
The second reason that Drabek's success is paramount to the organization was touched on in the introduction. Alex Anthopoulos will be heavily graded on the moves that he made in his first season and one of those moves was, of course, "The Doc Deal" (I am only linking to this because I am kind of amazed there is actually a wikipedia link to it). In the comments section last time, Jabalong brought up a good point, which was that I may have been a bit hasty when I implied that the only part of the deal for which Anthopoulos would be graded would be Kyle Drabek. After all, Michael Taylor, one of the other players in the deal, was immediately flipped for Brett Wallace. How well Wallace performs relative to Taylor will certainly be an important barometer as well and, if anything, the fact that it was a straight swap could make it fairly easy to compare the one player to the other. Nonetheless, I still think Drabek's the more important piece here because he was the one that the Phillies wouldn't trade at the trade deadline last summer and if he had been on the block, who knows if Anthopoulos would even have the job right now. Anthopoulos has stated that he'd have made the deal whether or not Wallace had been available and, as a Jays fan, trading Doc was a bigger blow to me than trading Taylor. Again, the Wallace/Taylor angle could be an important one in evaluating Anthopoulos as a GM, but -- in the end -- I don't think it will have the emotional or gut kind of response that a successful or unsuccessful Drabek would elicit.
So, let's look at the second pertinent question. What should we be hoping to see from Drabek in 2010? Well, as we saw earlier, Drabek is now in his second full season back from Tommy John surgery, so it would be well-advised not to push him too far workload-wise just yet. Barring some sort of minor setback or bullpen usage during the season, let's hold off on hoping for that September callup for now. That said, we'll see what Drabek does at New Hampshire (?) and Las Vegas (?) this season because he might be knocking on the big club's door by the All Star Break anyway. As long as what to look for in Drabek's numbers this year, if he is pitching at AA, we should hope that his "adjustment" sees him repeat what he did at A+ ball last year. If he's at AAA, we should probably expect some regression as Drabek adjusts to better, older hitters and the hitter-friendly PCL. Additionally, as we said in Part I, process is more important than results at this point and for Drabek that means working on his changeup. What we're really hoping for would be an AA line of somewhere in the neighborhood of 9.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 45% GB-rate or an AAA line of 7.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 42% GB-rate. Now, while this is the kind of development we'd hope for, I think we should be satisfied if he posts any K-rate above 8.0 and walk-rate below 3.0 in AA (7.0 and 3.5, respectively in AAA -- with those peripherals and a 40+% GB-rate, Drabek would be quite an effective pitcher already at a much older level) and if he can log 170 innings or so. If Drabek does get a callup to the majors, there should be no expectations on him at just 22 years old.
Finally, there's no reason that Drabek can't put up the second group of numbers, which I'd find quite pleasing. He was absolutely dominant at A+ last season and was exceptional for a 21 year-old just over a year removed from Tommy John surgery in AA. This season, Drabek will likely be working on his changeup, so don't be shocked or too disappointed if the numbers don't quite show us everything we're hoping for just yet.