General : : Professional
Friday, December 18, 2009

Halladay Season Changes the East

Patrick Ebert        

Things have certainly gotten moreinteresting in the American League East. While the New York Yankees, coming off of their 27th World SeriesChampionship, have been relatively quiet on the free agent market afterbreaking the bank a year ago, they already have acquired Curtis Granderson fromthe Detroit Tigers, possibly as a replacement for free agent Johnny Damon.


The Boston Red Sox, determined to matchthe Yankees move-for-move in the offseason and win-for-win during the regularseason, have already acquired free agent starter John Lackey, giving them thebest starting rotation one-through-five in all of baseball.


The Tampa Bay Rays have alreadyaddressed their hole at the back of their bullpen, acquiring closer RafaelSoriano from the Braves via trade.


And the Baltimore Orioles never likeplaying second, third or even fourth fiddle in the AL East, having signed bothGarrett Atkins and Mike Gonzalez.


(While the Orioles have plenty of youngtalent that has either already made its mark at the big-league level, or isabout to, I would argue that their financial resources, and focus, shouldremain on player development until it’s clear they are ready to turn thecorner, so losing an early second-round draft pick in signing Gonzalez isn’t aparticularly wise move in my opinion.)


The biggest move of course was madeearlier this week, when the Toronto Blue Jays finally dealt ace pitcher RoyHalladay to the Philadelphia Phillies in a blockbuster deal that also involedthe Phillies sending their previous ace, left-hander Cliff Lee, to Seattle.


Both the New York Yankees and theBaltimore Orioles in particular have to be thrilled to see Halladay leave thedivision, as he has gone 18-6 and 20-4 against those two teams respectivelyover his career.


It was somewhat of a curious move forPhiladelphia, who already had an ace in Cliff Lee, a pitcher they acquired atmidseason this past year after attempts to acquire Halladay had failed.  New management in Toronto seemed to be moredetermined to deal him, and more realistic of what they could expect of thereturn package for their ace. Philadelphia may have been looking to acquire an ace that was more opento signing an extension, since both Halladay and Lee were (and Lee still is) tobecome free agents after the 2010 season.


This deal is of particular interest toour efforts here at Perfect Game, since three notable, former AflacAll-Americans made up the bulk of the talent the Blue Jays received in returnfor Halladay.


The Phillies sent right-handed pitcherKyle Drabek (Aflac 2005) and outfielder Michael Taylor (Aflac 2003), along withcatcher Travis D’Arnaud to the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays quickly swapped Taylor for Brett Wallace (Aflac 2004) fromthe Oakland Athletics.  Drabek would seemto be the key piece of this puzzle, and he likely will always be identified asthe pitcher the Jays received in return for their former ace.


Kyle, the son of former Cy Young awardwinner Doug Drabek, really stood out at the 2005 Aflac All-AmericanClassic.  After that event, I rated hisfastball and curveball the best among those that attended, and he alsoimpressed me with his polish and two-way ability.  He closed out the Aflac game for the Westsquad with 95 mph fastballs and a hammer curve, and he also launched somerockets during batting practice and during the home run derby of which he was asemi-finalist.  Unfortunately moving tothe American League he won’t have the opportunity to show what he can do at theplate.


This past year he went 12-3 with a 3.19ERA between two levels in the Phillies system. He struck out 150 and walked only 50 in 158 innings of work.  He has the profile, potential, pedigree andconfidence to one day become a staff ace.


And if you believe in the saying that,“there are two kinds of pitchers: Those that have had Tommy John surgery, andthose that will have Tommy John surgery,” well, Drabek has already gotten thatout of his way.  He missed significantparts of both the 2007 and 2008 seasons due to his elbow injury after he wasselected 18th overall by the Phillies in the 2006 draft.


Taylor was one of the most impressiveathletes that attended the inaugural Aflac event in 2003, when he looked like aman among boys with a tall, powerful and chiseled frame.  He struggled during his senior year in highschool, which some expected, as his swing was long and had a lot of holes, andhe had a hard time making the necessary adjustments at the plate.  It would seem as though he has addressed thoseissues by hitting .320 with 20 home runs, 84 RBI and 21 stolen bases across theAA and AAA levels in the Phillies farm system in 2009.


Taylor’s strong academic commitment toStanford meant no team could sign him out of high school, and he went on to enjoya solid college career before being drafted in the fifth round of the 2007draft.


The A’s became enamored with Taylorafter scouting him this past summer when the Phillies were showing interest inMatt Holliday, a trade that of course was never consummated.  So when they had the chance to acquire himfrom the Blue Jays, they quickly jumped all over it.


That allowed Wallace to become part ofyet another blockbuster trade, having been the key piece the A’s acquired fromthe Cardinals for the aforementioned Holliday. That sweet swing led to equally sweet numbers in 2009, as hecollectively hit .293 with 20 home runs and 63 RBI with three different teamsat the AA and AAA levels.


Wallace was one of my favorite hittersand overall players from the 2004 Aflac game. Despite questions about his bodytype and conditioning, he set a record for stolen bases in a game with three,including one of home.  He had, and stillhas, one of the sweetest left-handed swings you can find with an approach thatis beyond his years.


The success of the Aflac game has beenwell chronicled within these columns. Quite often the focus is the impact these players have on the draft andeven college baseball.  Now we arestarting to see more and more players make an impact at the Major League level,and as noted with the Halladay trade, most of the impact talent involved oncetook part in this event.


And of course, this isn’t the firsttrade that had a taste for the annual summer classic.  Jim Ecker already chronicled former Aflac All-AmericanAustin Jackson (2004) after he was included as part of the blockbuster tradethat sent Jackson to Detroit, Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and EdwinJackson to Arizona.


All the more reason to keep an eye onthe young men lucky enough to have the chance to participate.


Thethoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of PerfectGame USA.  Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA, and can be contacted via email at



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