HONOLULU—The Honolulu Sharks have wasted little time putting Kyle Drabek to work.
The Phillies’ pitching prospect officially joined Hawaii Winter Baseball Oct. 21 and has already made two relief appearances totaling five innings. That’s in a seven-day span covering only three games because of two rainouts and two scheduled days off by the league.
But the 6-foot-1, 180-pound righthander isn’t complaining.
“It’s a chance to pitch a little bit more after surgery and good chance to show a little bit more of what I got,” said Drabek, son of former big league pitcher Doug Drabek. “Hopefully, if I can do well here, it will give me a better chance of moving up.”
Drabek, coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, is making up for lost time. The first-round pick from 2006 logged 12 innings from four starts in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, going 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA, walking six and striking out six.
He tossed 20 1/3 innings from four starts at short-season Williamsport, going 1-2, 2.21 while striking out 10 and walking six. Drabek, 20, then went to instructional league. He had no idea he was going to sent here.
“Right at the end, they told me I was coming here,” he said. “I was happy about it.”
He should be pleased. In his first outing, against the North Shore Honu, he pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits, while striking out three. Twenty of his 28 pitches were for strikes. His next outing Oct. 28, he threw three scoreless before giving up a solo home run to Todd Frazier (Reds), one of the hottest hitters in HWB, in his fourth inning of work. After he was pulled, he was charged with two runs, two walks, while striking out three. He threw 30 of his 53 pitches for strikes. An American League scout had his fastball clocked consistently in the 93-95 mph range.
“Everything’s almost 100 percent,” Drabek said. “I’m sure (the Phillies) just wanted me to get in a few more innings.”
Drabek said he wants to work on fastball command in HWB. “That’s one of the biggest things I need,” he said. “I’m working on a changeup, too.”
One noticeable difference from post-surgery is Drabek’s delivery. “I would lift my leg up real high, turn my body pretty much all the way around so that batter could only see my number,” he explained. “It was really herky-jerky. They think that’s one of the reasons I had the surgery. Now, they got me just going straight up and down.”
The new motion has helped with his command.
“When I was with my first motion—mainly because I wasn’t looking at the catcher’s mitt—that didn’t give me a great chance of hitting the spot,” he said. “Now that I keep my eye on the catcher, it gives me a better chance of hitting my spot.
He has experienced a dip in velocity, but isn’t too worried. “I’m thinking, once the off-season comes and I get my arm to rest, hopefully, I’ll get it back,” he said.
Four others joined Drabek in HWB on Oct. 21:
• Righthander Brett Hunter (Athletics) was assigned to North Shore to replace righthander Sam Demel (Athletics). The seventh-round pick out of Pepperdine, who signed for $1.1 million, only pitched 2 2/3 innings this summer as he signed late coming off shoulder issues that plagued his junior season.
• Righthander Austin Chambliss (Rockies) was assigned to the Sharks to replace righthander David Patton, who was sent to the Arizona Fall League. Chambliss was a 17th-round pick in 2007 out of Middle Georgia JC.
• Righthander Cody Scarpetta (Brewers) replaced lefthander Mike Ramlow on the CaneFires. The 11th-round pick from 2007 is the son of Dan Scarpetta, who was drafted by the Brewers in the third round in 1982.
• Catcher Matt Inouye (White Sox) was added to the Sharks as a “taxi squad” player. The homegrown Inouye, who played at the University of Hawai’i from 2003-2006, was cleared to play by the White Sox, who do not contribute players to HWB. He played for the BeachBoys last season.
Former Orioles lefthanded pitcher Adam Loewen was added to the West Oahu CaneFires Oct. 28, making him the first HWB player with previous MLB experience. The Orioles removed him from the 40-man roster and intended to resign him, but instead Loewen signed with the Blue Jays. Baltimore’s first-round pick from 2002 decided to scrap pitching after he suffered his second stress fracture in his left elbow in July. Although other teams, including the Orioles, were interested in Loewen as a hitter, Toronto was a logical choice for the native of British Columbia.
“I grew up cheering for the Toronto Blue Jays,” said Loewen, the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2002. “They made a convincing argument to come over and play for them. I was excited to do it. I’m starting over. It’s a good way to start over completely.”
After six years of pitching professionally—including an 8-8, 5.38 mark in parts of three seasons with the Orioles—the 6-foot-5, 235-pound lefthanded hitter has just two big-league at-bats from a 2006 interleague game, going 0 for 2. He did have 30 at-bats in instructional league while with the Orioles.
Loewen wouldn’t be the first to use HWB to aid the transition from pitcher to hitter. In 2006, Mike Stodolka, the Royals’ top pick of 2000, used HWB to get more at-bats after his first summer as a first baseman at high Class A High Desert. Like Loewen, he scrapped pitching because of arm problems. He played at Triple-A Omaha this past season. Of course, both are hoping to be the next Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals, the most recent success story of pitcher-turned-hitter.
Loewen was two-way player at Chipola JC, playing first base on days he didn’t pitch. He hit .353 with a home run and 38 RBI in 45 games. His decision to switch didn’t come overnight.
“I’ve been thinking about it ever since I hurt my arm in 2007,” he said. “It was always in the back of my mind. If I can’t pitch, I’m not going to quit baseball. For me, I already knew what I wanted to do when I fractured my elbow again.”
At 24, he will be starting from scratch.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s going to be a good opportunity for me. I do like playing a position better than pitching. I don’t like sitting on the bench, waiting every five days. I’d like to get up there and help my teammates.”