Baseball wasn’t on Shane Drohan’s radar.
Though his father had played professionally in the Royals system, Drohan didn’t love the sport. He quit in grade school, played a bit (but didn’t pitch) as a freshman at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., then quit again.
When the lefthander hit a growth spurt — going from about 5 feet 8 inches as a freshman to 6-2 as a sophomore — he pursued quarterbacking rather than pitching. But in his junior year, a football teammate persuaded Drohan to return to baseball. Once on the mound, possibility immediately took root.
Drafted out of high school, Drohan went to Florida State to continue his development. Yet the chance to do so was limited. Control woes limited him to four innings as a freshman, and after a promising sophomore year, the pandemic shutdown ended his junior year after just 17⅔ innings.
He’d shown terrific athleticism and enough with his fastball — flashing up to 94-95 miles per hour — and curveball to miss bats, but his control (19 percent walk rate) gave some teams pause. Drohan met with teams by Zoom that spring in advance of the draft, and made his own pitch: a promise of growth.
“My draft year was really weird,” said Drohan. “I would always be on the Zooms with all these teams and I’d be like, ‘Guys, I’m telling you, my control is not going to be a problem. I just need the reps.’ ”
The Sox agreed, and believed Drohan could make sizable gains once on a strength program. In pitching terms, he was young and significantly unmolded, suggesting plenty of possibility when the Sox took him with their fifth-round pick in 2020.
Of course, visions of possibility often dissolve when hit with the cold splash of professional baseball. But to the delight of the Sox, that hasn’t been the case with Drohan, whose early dominance at Double A Portland this season resulted in a promotion this week to Triple A Worcester and status as arguably the organization’s best pitching prospect.
“We write these evaluations with unbelievable optimism,” said Sox vice president of scouting and player development Paul Toboni. “The harsh truth is that the majority of the time, these prospects don’t end up reaching these projections. But Shane is trending kind of along the lines that we thought he would.”
Drohan’s development has been steady. With a limited fastball/curveball repertoire, he forged a 3.96 ERA with a 21 percent strikeout rate and 12 percent walk rate while spending all of 2021 in Single A Salem.
That offseason, he worked to add size and strength while also sculpting a changeup. While he made limited velocity gains, the changeup emerged as a clear above-average offering, and helped him to a 3.89 ERA with a 28 percent strikeout rate and 9 percent walk rate.
Progress was clear, but the Sox challenged him with a pair of homework assignments at the end of the year. The first: Develop a cutter, a project that started late last year.
The lefty’s four-seamer has carry at the top of the zone as well as arm-side run. His changeup dove down and away from righties. His curve sliced down through the zone to his glove side. The cutter would give him a pitch to attack the fourth quadrant of the zone, up and to the glove side.
“With the way that I developed the changeup [for 2022], it gave me so much more confidence learning the cutter for this year,” said Drohan.
The second assignment?
“He had to make eating a job,” said director of pitching development Shawn Haviland.
Drohan was 175 pounds. The Sox wanted him to add strength to improve the stability and repeatability of his delivery. Drohan complied, consuming two steaks every day — mostly New York strip that he’d grill or air fry.
Did he ever get sick of it?
“Surprisingly, no,” he said. “It’s a food that I didn’t really get sick of. Eggs, yeah. They’d make me sick. But I was OK with steak.”
Drohan got to about 191-192 pounds, and the added strength has resulted in a velocity jump. He is averaging 93 and topping out around 95, while producing a more consistent delivery that has resulted in a vastly improved attack on the strike zone.
The result? Dominance in Double A to start the year. Drohan’s four-pitch mix, strike-throwing, and added velocity produced a 5-0 record and 1.32 ERA with a 28 percent strikeout rate and 7 percent walk rate in six starts with the Sea Dogs.
“He’s a guy that just kind of took the jump this year and really checked the boxes and made a big step forward,” said Haviland. “This is a guy that can fit into the rotation in Boston.”
Evaluators from three other organizations were divided, with projections ranging from a multi-innings reliever to a mid-rotation starter. Greater clarity will come as Drohan competes for Worcester.
In his debut Thursday, he opened with three scoreless innings before getting dinged for three homers and five runs in his final two. It was a starting point at the level, which, if his professional career is any indication, can serve as a building block for progress.
“I don’t think he’s done. He doesn’t think he’s done,” said Toboni. “I think he’s going to push really hard to come onto another mile per hour or two, and I think that’s how he really separates himself.”
▪ WooSox outfielder Wilyer Abreu has reached base in all 14 games he’s played in May, posting a .313/.407/.521 line with 3 homers.
▪ After a sluggish April, Portland first baseman Niko Kavadas, 24, has crushed the ball in May, hitting 6 homers in 13 games while amassing a .256/.450/.698 line.
▪ Switch-hitting infielder Brainer Bonaci has multi-hit games in eight of his last 12 contests, leaving the defensively gifted 20-year-old with a .352/.417/.519 line through 14 games for High A Greenville.
▪ Worcester righthander Bryan Mata has a strain of the teres major muscle. The Sox hope he will miss weeks rather than months.
▪ Outfielder Miguel Bleis, who is hitting .259/.315/.370 in Salem, has been out since May 11 with a left shoulder strain. There’s a chance he can DH this weekend.
▪ While middle infielder Mikey Romero has been in Fort Myers rehabbing his back, he is steadily increasing the intensity of his hitting program.