Drabek maturing, following his dream
Right-hander getting his practice down pat at Spring Training
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Kyle Drabek needed to find a spot to eat lunch when Jamie Moyer summoned.The 19-year-old frequently nodded as Moyer gesticulated, using his arms for emphasis. The veteran wasn't explaining game-situations or relating a story from a nearly full bank of Major League memories. This day's lesson focused on the art of playing catch. "He told me what I was doing wrong," Drabek said. "I think it's great that he'll talk to me, a rookie, and help me out. In high school, I thought you just throw it and catch it." Not even close, Moyer explained. Even playing catch -- something Moyer and Drabek do daily -- there's always something to work on, and Moyer wanted Drabek to focus on hitting a spot, repeating mechanics and strengthening his arm. Consider it lesson No. 1 from a man with nearly as much Major League experience, 18 years, 126 days, as Drabek has time on earth. "What I'm trying to get across to him is that practice is just as important as when you're on the mound," Moyer said. "In a catch situation, there's no downside to it. Playing catch is a way to create consistency in what you do, and what makes you do it, or what's not allowing you to do it. That's what I'm trying to get across to him." Drabek would be wise to listen to Moyer, who is four months younger than Doug Drabek -- Kyle's big-league father, and whose oldest son is four years younger than Kyle. He also should soak in information from Brett Myers, who spoke to Drabek about controlling his emotions. Myers struggled with that early in his career -- and sometimes still does -- while Drabek has a reputation for reacting poorly when things don't go his way. No one is questioning Drabek as a high-ceiling talent. The kid is believed to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, despite a poor professional debut in the Gulf Coast League, when the right-hander compiled a 7.71 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. Now, in his first big-league Spring Training, the idea is for him to use this time around Major Leaguers to benefit his development, and add to the lessons he learned while running around the clubhouse as Doug's kid. "That's one of the big things when I came here. I want to learn a lot," Drabek said. "Ever since I was 4, and going into the clubhouse, playing baseball was something I always wanted to do. This has been my dream and I'm fulfilling it; there's nothing else better." Already, Drabek has impressed manager Charlie Manuel with his arm, and director of Minor Leagues Steve Noworyta noticed maturity. "From last year to now, I see someone who's a little more focused," Noworyta said. "That's all part of maturity. He's going about the work the way we thought he would. It makes us excited to get the season started and see what he can do."
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Drabek is ticketed for Class A Lakewood, assuming he wins a spot. He'll likely spend the season there or earn a promotion to Class A Clearwater. If he shows enough in camp, the Phillies might reward him with an appearance in a Grapefruit League game."He has the ability and the stuff to be a Lakewood guy right now," Noworyta said. "We're going to give him the opportunity to make that club. He's headed in the right direction." Like nearly all sons of Major Leaguers, Drabek had the benefit of growing up around a big-league clubhouse. Most of his memories involve joking around with Darryl Kile, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, while Doug played for the Astros. Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson was also briefly a teammate in Houston. "That's helped me a lot," Drabek said. "Players then taught me stuff that I still use. I talked to Darryl Kile a lot, Biggio -- those guys really helped me." Doug spends much more time on the golf course than on the baseball diamond these days -- save for helping out as a coach for the Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints, an independent league team that features Kyle's brother, Justin, at second base. Justin, by the way, has a tryout scheduled with the Phillies later this month. Still, Doug has plenty of time to talk pitching with his son, and the two watch tapes of some of dad's performances. "He's trying to teach me a few pitches, but I can't learn them," Drabek said. "He's trying to teach me a slider, but the way I'm throwing it, it's not working. I'll get it." Before Kyle left for Spring Training, father and son watched pop's near no-hitter against the Phillies on Aug. 3, 1990. The man who won 155 games in a 13-year career and earned the NL Cy Young Award that season, lost the bid when Sil Campusano laced a ninth-inning single. "We watched from the seventh inning on," said Kyle, who was 2 years old at the time. "He was trying to remember what he was throwing. I asked him what he was thinking in certain situations. It was great. He remembered a lot of it and explained a lot of things." There was another game in which Drabek faced the Mariners, and he surrendered an upper-deck homer to Ken Griffey Jr. "My dad threw him a changeup," Kyle said, laughing. "We rag on him for that." Kyle can only hope to avenge his father by retiring Griffey, even if it's in Grapefruit League action. Of course, he has a long way to go before that can happen, and guys like Moyer will help him keep perspective. "He's a great talent, with a lot of ability, and that will take him as far as he wants it to, but what he does in between will make him better," Moyer said. "I'm trying to keep an eye on him, and put myself in the situation when I was 23 or 24 in big-league camp, not 19. It's an eye-opening experience. Heck, I pitched against his daddy. "You want to see a kid progress and show him, 'We're all the same here,' whether you're 19 or 44, we're all trying to accomplish the same thing. We might as well do it together. You want him to be as comfortable as he can be. We're all here to make each other better."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.