Drabek stands out among Futures stars

ST. LOUIS -- Phillies prospect Kyle Drabek got his athleticism from his famous father, Doug, and his competitive edge from his mother, Kristy.

"She's a little fiery sometimes,'' Drabek said.

Judging from the comments of his peers, Drabek's breaking ball was bequeathed to him by a significantly higher power.

Drabek, 21, lockered in the middle of a knockout assortment of pitching talent at the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday at Busch Stadium. Baltimore's Chris Tillman and San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner dressed on one side of him in the U.S. Team clubhouse, and San Diego's Mat Latos and the Orioles' Brian Matusz were on the other.

Time sure flies when you're pursuing a dream. In the summer of 2005, Drabek, Tillman and Latos played together in the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at the Cal Ripken complex in Aberdeen, Md. Drabek's hook made an impression on Latos that lingers to this day.

"It's pretty filthy,'' Latos said. "I've seen a lot of curveballs and some nasty sliders, but not a curveball like that. All I could think was, 'I'm glad I'm not a hitter.'''

Drabek snapped off a couple of nifty curves and deftly alternated his fastball between 88 and 93 mph in a 1-2-3 inning, preceding a brief interval of sunshine in the U.S. Team's 7-5 loss against the World squad on Sunday.

Was the outing a prelude to a spot on an even bigger stage? That's hard to say. But for the assembled spectators and scouts at Busch Stadium, it sure beat sitting through a four-hour rain delay reliving the high points of Saturday night's Sheryl Crow-Elvis Costello concert.

As pitching-strapped big league teams take a breather at the All-Star break and ponder their options, the big question for Drabek and several of his buddies is, what's next on the agenda? Now that Rick Porcello, Tommy Hanson, David Price and other top prospects have graduated to the majors, it's only natural to speculate who'll come next.

Neftali Feliz, an electric-armed righty in the Texas organization, is pitching relief for Triple-A Oklahoma City, and speculation abounds that he will join fellow prospect Derek Holland in Texas after the break as the Rangers go full-bore after their first playoff berth since 1999.

The scouting community is divided on whether Feliz is better suited for starting or closing. For each talent evaluator who thinks that Feliz's lack of a consistent curveball could be an impediment to him leading a rotation, there's another who's convinced he has the talent to be a front-of-the-rotation starter.

"That's about as easy an upper-90s fastball as you're going to see,'' said a National League scout. "The ball just jumps out of his hand. He's a special guy.''

Tillman, who is averaging more than a strikeout per inning for Baltimore's Triple-A Norfolk affiliate, and Latos, 8-1 with a 1.37 ERA in San Diego's minor league system this year, are making a statement even though they play for teams that aren't in contention and can afford to let them polish their repertoires on the farm.

Then there's Drabek, who has been in the news a lot lately as a potential centerpiece in a deal for Toronto's Roy Halladay. His name is out there even though teams that have inquired about his availability have been told the Phillies have no interest in dealing him.

Scouts like to talk about the "good face,'' and Drabek bears a striking resemblance to his dad. Doug Drabek won 155 games in a 13-year career with Pittsburgh and four other clubs, and peaked in 1990 with a 22-6 record, a 2.76 ERA and a Cy Young Award for the Pirates.

Kyle inherited his father's pitching genes, but he encountered lots of scrutiny for his alleged poor "makeup'' at the Woodlands High in Houston. The rap sheet included a single-car accident, a public intoxication charge that was eventually dropped and on-field displays of temper and hot-headedness that scared some teams away from selecting him in the 2006 draft.

In hindsight, most baseball people find it easier to forgive Drabek's youthful indiscretions. The sentiment now making the rounds is that Drabek lacked "structure'' in high school and suffered from the silver-spoon syndrome. He just needed time to outgrow it.

"He was 17 years old and his father was a multimillionaire and a Cy Young winner,'' said an NL scout. "I think a lot of people in this game forget what it's like to be a star athlete when you're a teenager.''

Maybe all Drabek needed was a dose of reality. He blew out his right elbow in 2007 and needed Tommy John surgery. The Phillies assigned Mike Zagurski, a veteran minor leaguer and fellow Tommy John guy, to room with Drabek and babysit him in the minors this season, and the friendship has helped Drabek come of age.

The "new'' Kyle Drabek is earning raves within the Phillies' organization for his comportment and dedication. He altered his mechanics, eliminated a hip turn and takes a more straightforward approach to home plate these days. Each time he takes the mound, he shows a true sense of purpose.

"You know how there are some kids who think they're going to pitch in the big leagues?'' said a minor league coach who saw Drabek recently. "This kid knows he's going to be there.''

It's hard to argue with the results: Drabek is 9-1 with a 2.58 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 108 1/3 innings for Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, and making a strong case to be on the fast track.

Is Drabek ready to pitch in the majors? In his opinion … well … yes.

"Most of my stuff is where I want it to be right now,'' Drabek said. "If they wanted me, I'd be ready.''

Ultimately, Drabek knows it's not his decision to make. No matter how deftly a young pitcher works the strike zone, some calls are beyond his control.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.