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Drabek comes with high expectations

Drabek comes with high expectations

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TORONTO -- High expectations have followed Kyle Drabek his entire life. Having a Cy Young Award winner for a dad will do that for a young pitcher.

Now, Drabek has the distinction of being one of the key pieces in the complicated trade that sent another former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays to the Phillies. Toronto believes Drabek has the potential to develop into a front-line starter in the big leagues -- a leader for years to come for the Jays.

That could be a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old pitcher. Drabek -- son of former big league pitcher Doug Drabek -- is determined to show that he can meet everyone's expectations.

"I have to go out there and make sure I prove myself," Drabek said in a phone interview on Thursday. "I have to show that they were right. My dad always told me that you just need to go out there and pitch like you know how to."

Drabek was hoping to do precisely that with the Phillies, who selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. When he answered a recent phone call from Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar, Drabek was surprised to learn that he was going to have to chase his big league dreams with a new club.

The Blue Jays received prospects Michael Taylor, Travis d'Arnaud and Drabek from the Phillies in exchange for Halladay. Toronto then dealt Taylor to Oakland for first-base prospect Brett Wallace. It is a trio of former first-round picks that the Jays hope can be a key part of the future.

It was an unexpected development for Drabek, considering the Phillies would not part with him when the team was discussing a potential Halladay trade with Toronto this past July. The Blue Jays were persistent in insisting Drabek be included in any deal, which was flattering for the young right-hander.

That is why he is excited about his new opportunity with Toronto.

"When I got the call from Chuck LaMar, it felt a little weird," Drabek said. "I certainly didn't want to leave the Phillies. They were the team that drafted me. There's always the part where you want to try to stay with that team, but I know these days it's getting harder to do that.

"Then again, I like that the Blue Jays, they kept wanting me. That felt good. That a team wants you that bad."

It was a bittersweet day for Drabek.

"I had a lot of texts from players from the Phillies that I had played with," he said. "Most of them, they're happy for me. They all wished me good luck. I'm going to miss a lot of the guys that I played with, but now it's time to go into Toronto and make some new friends."

Drabek has never been to Toronto and he admitted that he was not too familiar with the Blue Jays organization. He said that he enjoyed watching Halladay pitch, but added that the pitcher he's studied more is Boston right-hander Josh Beckett.

"Games that he would pitch, I'd kind of watch him and he goes after hitters," Drabek said. "Him and Halladay aren't scared, which you need. You need to have the confidence to really go out there and do what you know how to."

It's that type of mentality that convinced Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos that Drabek had to be included in the deal.

"He's an intense, fiery competitor," Anthopoulos said. "That's something that you really need -- a tremendous will to win. I think that's one of those things that allows you to get to the front of a rotation. All these guys have tremendous ability, but being a real competitor is something that I think is going to separate Kyle Drabek from the pack."

This past season, Drabek split his time between Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, going 12-3 with a 3.19 ERA and 150 strikeouts across 158 innings. Drabek features a fastball that can touch 96 mph, a plus-curveball that he uses as a strikeout pitch and a changeup that has shown potential.

"I like to attack the zone early," said Drabek, describing his style. "The big thing is a first-pitch strike. If you get that, you can kind of do whatever you want. So, I like to try to attack the zone early and get ahead of batters so that I can use my curveball and changeup."

Sounds a lot like Halladay -- known for his economical, pitch-to-contact approach.

It's going to take time for Drabek to show if he has what it takes to be an ace on the big league stage. Anthopoulos indicated that Drabek will most likely open the 2010 season with Double-A New Hampshire, but there is definitely an opportunity for the young pitcher to rise fast through the system.

Toronto's projected rotation includes Shaun Marcum, who has not started since 2008 due to a right elbow injury, and a pile of young pitchers led by Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Marc Rzepczynski, among others. The Jays don't know what to expect from Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) and Jesse Litsch (right elbow) is likely out until at least July.

If Drabek gets off to a strong start, and the young staff in Toronto struggles, he could wind up in a Blue Jays uniform sooner than expected.

Drabek plans on doing what he can to make that happen.

"I'm just hoping I can get there as soon as possible," he said. "I'm trying to work hard in the offseason so I have that opportunity next year."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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