by Larry Ham
There’s an old and true adage in Baseball, that pitching wins championships. It’s been proven over and over again through the years, and that’s why the pitching coach is one of the most important parts of a baseball team. On the professional level, the pitching coach at the lower minor league level makes a huge impact on the development of an organization’s prize prospects, and that’s why the Visalia Rawhide have entrusted their pitchers to Doug Drabek.
Doug Drabek is a name familiar to any baseball fan over the age of twenty. He was a highly successful and dependable pitcher in the major leagues from 1986 through 1998, and won the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the National League in 1990, compiling a record of 22-6 with 2.76 ERA. After retiring in 1999, he was out of baseball for several years, but now is back as the pitching coach for the Rawhide. Doug was nice enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions.
Larry: Before we talk about the Rawhide, I have to ask you about your son Kyle, who is in the starting rotation for the Toronto Blue Jays. You must be really excited about the great job he’s doing. Do you talk to him often, and do you still coach him, or do you leave that to the Toronto pitching coach?
Doug Drabek: I usually talk to him after his game or the next morning. Sometimes with the time difference we miss each other. I probably talk more as a coach instead of dad. I don’t tell him what to do, I just offer suggestions.
Larry: After you retired as a player in 1999, you were out of professional baseball for several years. What did you do during those years and what made you decide to get back into the game?
Doug Drabek: After I retired I coached my sons’ team until they both were gone, then just went to see them play wherever they were at. I liked working with kids and since they were all out of the house I thought I’d try coaching at this level.
Larry: It’s been close to three decades since you began your pro career. Has the game changed much? Have the players changed?
Doug Drabek: The game has basically stayed the same, you have to throw it, catch it and hit it. I think the game has gotten more technical and I think you see a few more younger players.
Larry: After the great Major League career you had, has it been a tough adjustment riding buses and being in small ballparks again?
Doug Drabek: The adjustment from playing in the majors and coaching in the minors hasn’t been hard. Smaller parks, but a lot of them have character and bus rides haven’t been bad. I’ve been lucky being in the Northwest and Cal league. The rides aren’t that long.
Larry: As the pitching coach of the Rawhide, what are your goals for your pitching staff?
Doug Drabek: My goal for the Rawhide staff is try to help each one improve on something that will help them get to the next level as fast as they can.
Larry: Many pitching coaches feel like they need to teach their pitchers new pitches, and others try to perfect the pitches their guys already throw. Where do you fit into this debate?
Doug Drabek: The big thing is getting them to be consistent. Some kids have the pitches they need, so you try to get them to improve on those and some kids might need one more pitch to make them more effective and move up. I try to do both.
Larry: Tell us about some of your pitchers. I know the Diamondbacks have sent some of their top prospects to you this season. I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on Tyler Skaggs, Chase Anderson and Kevin Munson.
Doug Drabek: Skaggs has good stuff and he’s only 19. Good fastball, a good 12 -6 curveball and a decent change that he is working on to make better. He has good mound presence. One thing he has to work on that we’ve been talking about is he has a tendency to try to go harder at times which makes him open up with his delivery which makes him inconsistent with arm angle. He has a good chance.
Anderson has a low maintenance delivery. Very mechanically sound. Has the ability to hit his spots with pitches. Good fastball that goes with a sharp curveball and good slider and a good change. Knows how to pitch.
Munson is a little bulldog out there. Good fastball and hard slider. Does have a change but doesn’t throw it as much because he goes after hitters and is in for 1 or 2 innings, but once he starts to use it a little more, it will help him out. He’s kind of a grinder.
Larry: As a Cy Young Award winner, do you think that adds to the respect level you get from your pitchers?
Doug Drabek: Winning the CY Young Award doesn’t carry as much weight as someone who knows how to relate to each pitcher on their needs and be able to get them to trust in what you’re saying or teaching.
Larry: Many of the Rawhide players are very young and away from the comforts of home for the first time. Do you sometimes feel like a substitute father?
Doug Drabek: At this level most kids have been playing for a couple of years or at least have been in college so it’s not something new to them.
Larry: What are your impressions so far of Visalia and the Rawhide fans?
Doug Drabek: I like Visalia. I’m from a small town in Texas and the fans have been good.
Larry: Do you have a desire to move up the ladder and eventually be a Major League pitching coach?
Doug Drabek: If I move up the ladder that would be great, if not I would still enjoy doing what I’m doing at whatever level.
A very special thank you to Doug Drabek for taking the time to answer my questions. Believe me when I say that as a lifelong baseball fan, it was quite exciting conversing with a gold plated Cy Young award winner. The Visalia Rawhide are the single A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and several of their most prized pitchers are being coached by Doug, and when you see them in the Major Leagues in a few years, you can be sure a lot of what they know was taught by Doug Drabek.
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