Kyle Drabek, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during the offseason. He started the season with Double-A New Hampshire, where he is 4-3 with a 3.60 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 40 innings. We sat down after batting practice last week to talk about his father, the psychology of being traded, and the right way to act on the mound.
Your dad [Doug Drabek] retired when you were eleven. When you were growing up did you get to spend a lot of time around the ballpark, around the team?
You know, when he was with the Pirates, I was kinda young. I really don’t remember any of that. With the Astros, I remember bits and pieces here and there, just being able to hang out with some of the players. When I was younger I loved to hit, I’d go hit with Bagwell and Biggio and stuff like that. It was just always fun every time I got to go to the park with him.
I remember always hearing about the Big Red Machine. All the players, it seemed, had kids who went on to become pro ballplayers – Pete Rose’s kid, Ken Griffey Jr., obviously – were there any guys that you ran around with that are playing in the bigs or in the minors somewhere?
As far as running around with them when we were younger, I don’t think that any of them are in the minors except for [Koby] Clemens. I hung out with Sid Bream’s kids a lot, Biggio’s kids, things like that, but as far as I can recall, Clemens is the only one.
So just being around the game, being around Biggio and Bagwell, does that benefit you now, as far as seeing what these guys did every day and seeing what your dad did every day to be successful?
Yeah, I got to see how they acted on the field as well as off the field. And even at a young age, from what I can remember, it’s almost exactly what my dad told me: you gotta stay humble on and off the field, and you always have to – especially on the field – stay calm and just play your game.
Your dad went through really good times on the field – winning the Cy Young, making the NLCS, which is pretty impressive – and then also went through some tough times – with the Astros led the league in losses, had some rough down times. You’ve gone through some injuries and some really good times. Is he able to give you some perspective, keep you on an even keel, remind you not to get too high or too low?
He says, “You just gotta go out there and act the same.” A big thing he taught me was if you’re pitching a game, and the score can be 10-0, and someone walks into the stadium, doesn’t know which team’s which, and just sees you out on the mound, you’re not getting mad, you’re not freaking out on the mound, and he always told me to not let them know your weaknesses if you’re losing, like freaking out and stuff like that.
So do your job, pretty much.
Do your job, get it done to the best of your ability, and then move on.
Have you always been able to take that advice or do you sometimes feel like…?
You know, I’m real competitive, as he was. I’ll get mad. I try not to show it on the mound, just so it doesn’t get to the other team. They can take advantage of it.
Do you talk to him often? Do you guys communicate a lot during the season?
After every game I talk to him. And here and there in between those five days we’ll talk. Mom always makes sure I call her after each start too.
I don’t know how hands-on he is. Have you ever run into a time when maybe you get different advice from him and from your coaches?
He told me, the first thing is if the coaches tell me something different than he does, listen to my coaches. You know, “It’s their job, they’re there to help you, they see you, I don’t. Make sure you listen to them.”
As far as being traded. Your dad was right around the same age as you when he was traded from Chicago to New York. Was he able to give you any special advice or perspective about that? “Don’t take it personally,” anything like that?
He pretty much told me that it’s, “Someone else wanted you. Another team wanted you and it’s a good thing to be traded, that the other team is gonna have high hopes for you.” So I tried to take it as someone else wanted me.
I noticed your dad was a pretty fair hitter, and then I read about you in Baseball America and it said that you were a good athlete and a pretty solid hitter for a pitcher. Was it disappointing that you got traded to an American League organization?
If anything was disappointing it was that, because being in Double-A last year with Reading and being able to swing was a lot of fun. Nothing’s better than taking BP.
So now it’s a letdown. It’s the one bad thing about making the major leagues, maybe.
I’ll just wait until interleague play.
Do you ever feel like it’s tough to live up to the standard your dad set? He won 150 games in the major leagues, won a Cy Young, came within an eyelash of going to the World Series. Is it tough to be Doug Drabek’s kid?
No, not at all. He did a great job raising me, along with my mom. When I was growing up I lived a normal life. The area I grew up in was great. I had great friends, great people around me, and as far as being in the minors, once you’re here you’re just another player. All the rounds pegs and stuff like that go out the door. You’ve gotta do your job to get to the next level. So I’ve been trying to do that my whole career so far.
To me, to the world of fans, you’re “Top Prospect Kyle Drabek.” But in the clubhouse, it sounds like you’re just tomorrow’s starter, you’re a normal guy.
Yeah, you just gotta go out there and do your job, that’s what everyone’s here for. The ones who get the job done are gonna get moved up faster.
We talked about the trade. Was it tough last year, in the summer, you’re trying to go to work every day but at the same time it’s like, “Okay, am I gonna have to go across the field to another clubhouse, go play for another team?” Was it tough having to deal with that?
It wasn’t tough at all. The guys on the Reading team liked to make jokes about it, they kept me real loose about the whole situation. So it made it a lot easier to go out there and pitch and get my work done.
So when you found out you were traded to the Blue Jays, you said you looked at it like another team wanted you. Did it feel any different knowing that you were a big piece that was going in return for a guy like Roy Halladay?
Being traded for one of the best pitchers in the major leagues is nice. But they had to get other players besides me to make that deal, and they got d’Arnaud, who is a great catcher, and then they got…how did I just forget his name?
That’s alright, I’ll look it up later and I’ll pretend you said it.
[laughs] Alright, thank you…oh, Wallace, Brett Wallace.
So it’s kind of an honor but at the same time it wasn’t like it was straight up?
Yeah, there was a lot of people in the deal, it was a big deal, and I feel like without the players teams got that it might’ve not happened.
On the mound you said you’re competitive but you try to stay within yourself. Is there any major league pitcher you’d compare yourself with, the way they act on the mound?
Watching Roger Clemens a lot, great pitcher, just real confident on the mound. I want to be confident on the mound, I want people to be scared to face me. And watching him pitch, his mound presence is so good, that’s what I’m trying to go for.
A couple weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez and Dallas Braden had that big to-do with Rodriguez running across the mound. If you’re out there pitching a game and the guy takes a shortcut running third to first, runs over the mound, what’s your reaction?
I really wouldn’t care, unless I was sitting there on the mound and he grazed me. Then, that would be something. But if he just runs across it – or if he actually messes it up somehow, which is kinda hard when you’re just jogging – I really wouldn’t care.
Is there ever a time when you come into a tough situation here that you’ve got to get out of and you go against what would easily get you out of the situation?
I would go with what I thought was the best pitch to get out of the situation.
I wasn’t sure because I know you’re here to win but you’re also here to learn, so I didn’t know if it was like, “Okay, I know I can get this guy out with my curveball, but I want to be able to prove to myself that I can get him out with my fastball.”
You get to know the catchers, which is really good to do, and if y’all are on the right page, he ends up calling the curveball and you know that’s the pitch that you want and you throw it. Or if he calls the fastball, if you really don’t want to do that, if you do really want to throw the curveball, you can call him out there and he’ll tell you why he thinks the fastball and I’ll tell him why I think the curveball. And we’ll come to an agreement. You always want the catcher on your side, so it’s good to get to know him.
How long does it take to build that rapport? Because presumably you’re working with a new guy every year or every few months.
Not really long. I don’t think too long. This year, being new, not throwing to anyone, me and [Brian] Jeroloman, I think it only took us three spring training games to figure each other out a lot. It turns good, once you are in sequence with the catcher.
What has to happen for you to get to October and look back on this season and say, “I had a really good year, I’m happy with the way things turned out. I feel good about this season.”
One of my goals was just to stay healthy, finish the whole season. That’s always big for me because last year was the first year I finished the full season. And it was a great year, so I really want to do that again. But I think just being consistent with all my pitches and learning more about the game. As long as I feel that I’ve gotten better by the end of the season, I’ll be pretty happy.