Coming into 2011, Oliver Drake was not on many radar screens. He was outside the top 20 on John Sickels list and on Orioles-Nation's list. A 43rd round draft pick in the 2009 draft (Hobgood draft), not too much could have been expected of him. And in a season of disappointments throughout the organization, the former Navy star stands out. There is some scuttlebutt on the internet that his draft eligibility as a sophomore at a military school was something of a secret, but I have a hard time believing the Orioles pulled a fast one on the rest of MLB. Regardless, here is an interesting article I found while researching that question. Apparently Drake was majoring in quantitative economics while at Navy and as part of his contract, the Orioles must pay for the final 5 semesters he needs to finish the degree.
Drake is a 6'4" righthander from Gardner, Massachusetts. Scouting reports indicate that he has a low 90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. 2011 is his age 24 season.
After the jump, let's look at some of the numbers...
In over 400 minor league innings, Oliver Drake has an ERA of 3.85, while striking out 331 and walking 112. His K/9 is 7.4 and his K/BB is 2.96. From tracking him this year in Frederick, one of the things that stood out was his ability to strike out hitters at a decent clip (7.4 per 9), not walk many (1.7/9), and keep the ball in the ballpark (0.1 HR/9) and his ability to really improve his GB/FB ratio (2.18 in the Carolina League in 2011, 1.34 in the Carolina League in 2010).
So, what does that mean?
One of the things that I look for in a pitching prospect in my amateurish knowledge is whether he can miss bats and keep the ball on the ground. In 2011, the MLB K/BB is 2.25 (shockingly enough, the Orioles are 29th in K/BB in 2011...don't ever change Kansas City!). The guys who have the best K/BB ratios are quite simply the best pitchers in baseball. What is so interesting about Drake is his ability to get so many strikeouts while allowing so few walks. I'm inclined to bring up a guy like Brad Bergesen, but they seem like different pitchers, given Bergesen's ability to induce grounders at a higher rate but strikeout fewer guys. Of course, if Drake can be a back end of the rotation starter, there is value in that.
The real question is can this continue? It's one thing to post the second best ERA in the Carolina League as a 24 year old, it's quite another to face major league hitters. A northeast kid who pitched at the Naval Academy is not the same as a Florida kid who can pitch year round, but he's not a 21 year old turning heads either. And what to make of the improved GB/FB in 2011?