Kyle Drabek was drafted in 2006, so this marks the sixth year of the 23-year-old right-hander’s professional career. It has already been a memorable journey, as he has gone from being a first-round draft pick to having Tommy John Surgery to being a centerpiece in the Roy Halladay deal. He has also thrown a minor-league no hitter and earned a spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation.
Drabek was asked to pick out a highlight from each of his five-plus seasons prior to Saturday’s game at Fenway Park.
Drabek on 2006: “Being in the GCL and finishing my first year with a 7.71 ERA was a little different than it was in high school, where it seemed like our team was going to win every game. That showed me that things were changing, that I was going to end up losing a lot and would have to get used to it. Maybe not ‘used to it,’ but in pro ball you know it’s going to happen.”
On 2007: “My first full season I was in low A and that was the year I had Tommy John [surgery]. It was around the All-Star break and it was one of the physically, and mentally, toughest things I’ve ever had to go through, knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to play for a year.
“A lot of people have been having [Tommy John surgery] and coming back strong, so I just tried to stay confident. That was the only way I was going to be able to get through it."
On 2008: “I went to short season when I came back, and finished up there, but what’s notable is that I learned a lot about the game of baseball when I was rehabbing. The Tommy John ended up changing a lot, especially mechanical-wise and mental-wise. For a year straight, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to play, but I sat with Mike Zagurski, who I was rooming with, and he'd also had Tommy John. He had made it up to the bigs, so he kind of knew what was going on. He was able to make me think more about the game. It changed, really, the way I thought about it.
“I never really took care of my arm in high school; I never thought I could get hurt. When it happened, it changed a bunch of things. I had to change my mechanics, my delivery, a bunch. It really taught me how to be a pitcher instead of just a thrower, which I pretty much was coming out of the draft.
“What I changed mechanically was that I would turn my hips a bunch and kind of face center field, and then just whip my body around. I was pretty much throwing using all arm, which I later learned wasn‘t so good. That was before Tommy John. Now everything is real smooth. I’m able to look at the catcher and see where I’m throwing it, and that helped out a bunch with the command of all my pitches.”
On 2009: “That year was the first time I ever walked into the office and was told I was being [promoted]. That was a special moment for me, having my first call up to Double A. It was especially nice because it was Reading where there is always a packed house. It was amazing having my first start be at home there. It feels good to get told that you’re moving up, because you’re being rewarded.
“I was more mature by then. In my early years, I would get angry on the mound and that would kind of throw my game off. I had to learn to step back and take breaths when things were going wrong. Doing that helped me get to where I am now.
“[After the season] I got traded and that was a weird feeling. I didn’t know what to expect. I actually saw it on TV first. I didn’t hear about it until after. I was with some buddies and we saw it on TV, so I called my agent. The next morning I got a call from the Phillies. Then I got a call from Alex [Anthopoulos] kind of welcoming me, I guess.
“I talked to my dad and he told me that it can always happen, and it might happen again, because there is a business side to the game. He told me that I had to just go out there and compete like I knew how to. I was being traded for one of the best pitchers in the game, so I shouldn’t be mad about it. I should look at it like another team wants me, and that’s how I took it, that the Blue Jays wanted me.”
On 2010: “Last season was a lot of fun. The most memorable thing was when I threw the no hitter on July 4 [for Double A New Hampshire]. That was an amazing feeling. Obviously, getting called up [to Toronto] was really special as well. I was probably more excited about the call up, just because it’s always been my dream, from when I was a little kid, to pitch in the majors. That was maybe a little bit better than the no hitter.
“When I made my debut, I was a little nervous. When you see the stadium around you — how big it is, instead of some of the minor league stadiums — you have to kind of take it all in. When I got on that mound I was nervous, but once I got the first few pitches out of the way it seemed like a normal game again.”
On 2011: “When I got called into the office and told I was going to be starting the year on the team, it was almost like I was getting called up again. It was something I’ll never take for granted, because I’m always going to work hard to make sure that I can stay here.
“Everything feels good so far. My arm feels good, my body feels good. I’m just waiting for the cold weather to die down and for us to get some of that warmth back.”