By Kevin Saleeba
Worcester Red Sox pitcher Shane Drohan is a rising star in the Red Sox organization. The baseball world took notice of his potential in June. However, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound southpaw was the last person to know he was on the national radar.
“I had no idea,” said Drohan, who was called up to the Worcester Red Sox back in May after posting a dominant 5-0 record with a minuscule 1.32 earned run average (ERA), and an impressive 36-to-9 strikeouts to walks ratio. “It wasn’t even on my mind.”
About a month after his Triple-A callup, Woo Sox pitching coach Paul Abbott signaled over to Drohan in the Polar Park clubhouse and called the third-year pro to manager Chad Tracy’s office. “I was just in the middle of a workout,” he said. “Abby called me into Trace’s office and (Boston Red Sox director of player development Brian) Abrams was on the phone. He was, ‘hey, you’re going to the Futures Game!’”
The All-Star Futures Game is an annual baseball exhibition contest hosted by Major League Baseball (MLB) in conjunction with the mid-summer MLB All-Star Game. Drohan was selected to be a member of the 2023 team of American League-affiliated prospects to compete against a team of National League-affili- ated prospects. Current MLB star players like Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., were past selec- tions to the Futures Game. Drohan was the only player from the Woo Sox to be selected to this year’s team.
“It was very exciting,” said Drohan as he stood in front of his locker in the clubhouse during a July 25th rain delay. “It’s humbling, especially when you look at that game and see the types of players that played in it. It was just an honor. I was really excited to go and to represent Boston.”
Unfortunately for Drohan, prior to flying off to Seattle for the game, he ex- perienced some calf discomfort during a Worcester game. The Red Sox decided to hold him out of the Futures Game for precautionary reasons. With Drohan skipping the event, Portland Sea Dogs pitcher, Luis Guerrero, filled Drohan’s roster spot. However, Drohan took the bad news in stride. Despite his disappointment on missing the game, he said he was happy for his friend and former Portland teammate to get a chance to play in the game.
“It didn’t work out, but Guerrero got to go,” he said with a genuine smile. “He’s one of our guys down in Portland. He deserved it. He really deserved it.”
Drohan’s calm demeanor has helped him handle adversity throughout his brief professional career that began in 2020. He was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the MLB Draft that year. He had a modest start to his professional career in 2021. He posted a decent 7-4 record with a respectable 3.96 ERA in A-ball with the Salem Red Sox of the Carolina League. He moved onto the South Atlantic League to play for the Greenville Drive in High-A ball, but had mixed results. He finished with an unimpressive 6-7 record and a 4.00 ERA, but his 136-to-40 strikeouts to walks ratio stood out as he was promoted soon after to Double-A Portland in the Eastern League. He was 1-1 with 21 strikeouts and 11 walks in just five games with the Sea Dogs. At this time in his career, his fastball sat at 88-92 miles per hour (mph) as scouts graded his pitch command and control as below average.
Undeterred by the scouting reports, the athletic, but slim Drohan built up his arm strength during the offseason and showed an increase in velocity during spring training. He improved his fastball speed to 92-94, topping out at 96 mph.
Along with his fastball, he had major improvement with his changeup, which had increased in velocity from 78-81 mph to 83-86 mph. When he throws it, he displays deceptive arm speed as the ball drops away from right-handed hitters and jams lefties. He has the ability to throw it low in the strike zone to induce swinging strikes. “I think my pitches are in a good spot,” said Drohan. “Every day you’re trying to constantly improve them.”
Drohan saw immediate results in Portland going undefeated in six games to start the 2023 season while posting a stellar 0.82 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitch). This stat shows he was able to keep runners off the bases. However, after he was promoted to Triple-A and the Woo Sox in May, he has struggled, posting a 2-4 record and high 5.94 ERA in his first 12 games at this level.
At the same time, while working on new pitches, he continues to try to get Triple-A hitters out. He is focused on improving his curveball and cutter as he builds on his pitching repertoire; however, those pitches are still works in progress.
“I have put a little bit more emphasis on the cutter and slider right now. For me, because they’re newer pitches, I want to get a good feel for those pitches and throwing them in the game.”
Drohan admitted that working on these pitches in a game situation has affected his stats in Worcester. “It definitely can affect the outcome,” he said. “We’re trying to develop different pitches and … you really want to see how it works in a game. You can throw as many times as you want in thebullpenandinside-sessionsthrough- out the week, but until you’re doing it in a game and getting the movement that you want and the action on it that you want, that’s where it matters.”
Drohan hopes overcoming his initial obstacles in Worcester will lead to long- term success. “It’s just another jump up in level,” he said. “Especially here, you are facing a lot of guys with big league experience. They’ve seen a lot more pitching in their life. They’re just a lot more comfortable in the (batter’s) box. It’s really just making adjustments and consistently making quality pitches. The biggest struggles are that guys have more quality experience. You have to attack them. It’s a little bit different here.”
Tracy said Drohan’s initial struggles are just typical growing pains for a young pitcher. “Coming from Double-A to Triple-A, we see this with everyone … it’s just a different level … It’s harder. The hitters are better. They don’t have an automatic strike zone down there … It’s an umpire calling it. The (strike) zone is probably bigger. If you come here and pitch on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday and the pitch is a sliver off the plate, it’s a ball. So, that’s an adjustment … And now, if (you are) behind in the count and there’s seven guys in the lineup who have hit in the big leagues, it’s going to be harder … It’s another level, plain and simple.” As a young pitcher, Drohan said he can’t be afraid to throw any particular pitch in certain situations. “I might usually throw a changeup because that’s my best pitch,” he said. “But here, I might throw my cutter or slider instead because we’re trying to develop that pitch into a serious out pitch … That’s how it is. You have to allow yourself to be a little uncomfortable. Maybe not do what you would usually do on a regular day because you have to keep in mind the overall growth aspect of it.”
Tracy said Drohan works hard to learn his pitches. “He continues to work on his cutter … his breaking (curve) ball, getting the changeup over the plate more often, his fastball command, all those things … Combined, he will make the complete package of a pitcher.”
Drohan’s curveball has been scouted at 75-78 mph with a 1-to-7 break and a plus spin rate. At times, he will flash depth and tight rotation when he finishes it. He will also start at-bats throwing it or use it to put hitters away on both sides of the plate. As for his cutter, he has been clocked at 86-90 mph. When thrown well, the pitch has a short, horizontal break that gets on the hands of right-handed hitters.
“He’s got a number of things he’s working on,” said Tracy. “When he’s in the zone, his stuff plays. He’s got the ability, but it’s just a more challenging level and there’s final tweaks you have to make at this level to be ready for the next one … Command here is everything … You got to be able to throw strikes. Strike one throughout our entire organization is the thing that is pounded on quite a bit and to win one (ball) and one (strike) counts. We want to win two-of-the-first three pitches … get ahead in the count. When you are ahead in the count, you have more of a chance against the hitters. Hitters get on the defensive. You get more defensive swings, weak outs and things like that. If you are behind in the count, not so much … Being able to command your fastball or land your breaking ball for strike one is huge.”
Drohan, with his tall, athletic frame, has the physical mechanics to succeed at this level and possibly in the Major Leagues. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot, starting on the third base side of the pitching rubber. He throws exclusively from the stretch with a free and easy delivery, short stride and arm action. He hides the ball well and is able to consistently repeat his delivery.
Along with those positive qualities, Tracy said Drohan’s best attribute is his mental toughness and work ethic. “The one thing about Dro I love is when he’s pitching … he’s pretty unflappable,” Tracy said. “You really don’t see any change in body language. You don’t see him slapping or kicking at the mound. He doesn’t really get frustrated. I’m sure internally there’s some frustration, but he does not show it on the mound. He doesn’t stop competing … He knows very well what he has to do and we don’t have to compete with a guy moping around. He just doesn’t do that. He moves on to the next outing and he understands all these things we are talking about … He’s got a great work ethic. He works his butt off.”
Drohan is ranked as the number one pitching prospect in the Red Sox orga- nization, fifth overall. However, he hated the sport growing up despite being the son of a former professional baseball player. Bill Drohan pitched in the Kansas City Royals organization from 1987 to 1990.
“Baseball was boring. I always wanted to play football,” Shane Drohan said. He quit full-time baseball when he was in the fifth grade to focus on playing football. He played tackle football from first grade through his senior year at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was the starting quar- terback for the team and was recruited to play in a few small Division 1 colleges.
He was coached by his dad in Little League, but he left baseball “because I was just bored. I didn’t like it,” he said. “With my dad being a professional baseball player, he understood arm care and stuff like that. So, growing up, I never pitched much. I pitched every now and then and when I would, it would be good, but he was very strict with pitch count, not overusing me. So, they would stick me in the outfield. I was fast and a good athlete, but I just got bored with it. Especially when I would come from the end of football season and right into baseball. The intensity switch up was crazy different.”
“I did play outfield and pitched a little bit my freshman year in high school,” he said. “But it was like a handful of batters and then after my freshman year, I was like, ‘yeah, no, I’m good.’”
Then, during Drohan’s junior year, he grew. “I was always the smallest kid, but at that point, I hit my growth spurt. The last time I pitched, I was like 5-foot- 8, 115 pounds, but then at this point I was 6-1, 6-2. Still skinny as hell but I grew a little bit.”
His football teammate, junior Joe Yupp, who was a tight end and catcher for his high school teams, took notice of Drohan’s growth spurt and convinced him to give baseball another chance. “He was like, ‘I really think you need to come back and try to pitch. You’ve always had a really good arm and now you’ve grown. I think you could play Division 1 (college baseball).’”
Still reluctant, he decided to throw the ball after school with Yupp. “Alright man, whatever!” Drohan said. “It was after school one day and my dad showed up and saw me. I was just in my sneakers and I was throwing it. But it felt good. It was coming out nice. I was like, ‘yeah, man, let’s try it’ … I was just rippin’ it!”
Drohan immediately drew the attention of baseball scouts after his return to the sport. The Philadelphia Phillies even drafted him in the 23rd round of the 2017 MLB Draft, but he decided to play baseball for Florida State instead. He was drafted by the Red Sox after his junior season with the Seminoles.
Drohan credits the support of his father for allowing him to decide on his own athletic path. “He never forced me into baseball,” he said. “But I think he saw when I was very young that I had a good arm, even though I was always the smallest kid on the team. But he never really forced me into it. He let me come back to it on my own. I came back probably a little later than he might have liked. He probably got a little nervous as I was getting a little late in high school, but yeah, it all worked out.”
Drohan still relies on his father for pitching advice. “We talk pretty much every day. The other day, I think he sent me a text about my bullpen (session) coming up. So, it’s really nice to have him to fall back on. It’s kind of like a big database for me as a pitcher because he’s seen me on the first day that I touched a ball. It’s a blessing to have him in my corner. I can always go to him for advice. Not everyone has that situation and I don’t take it for granted.”
Wide Left: Pirates Miss Late Game Field to End Season
The Massachusetts Pirates season came to a heartbreaking end in July.
While trailing the Sioux Falls Storm late in the fourth quarter, 42-39, in the first round of the 2023 IFL playoffs, the Pirates were able to move the ball to the 19-yard-line and into field goal range with :44 seconds left in the game. Pirates’ kicker Josh Gable took the field with a chance to keep the Pirates’ season alive. However, he missed the 27-yard field goal attempt wide left allowing the Storm to regain possession and they essentially ran out the clock.
The loss was their fourth straight (second straight to the Storm) to end what began as a promising season. They started the 2023 campaign 9-3, but on field discipline issues tripped up the Pirates as they end their season 9-7 (7-4 in the conference). They also were not able to win any games away from the Worcester DCU Center.
The Pirates finish the season ranked second in the league in overall offense (4,002 total yards gained) and third in the league in overall defense. Running back Jimmie Robinson also led the league in rushing with 959 yards on 172 attempts. Quarterback Anthony Russo was tied for the league lead with 49 touchdown passes and ranked third in passing with 2243 yards with 183 completions on 298 attempts.
Holy Cross Football Returns to Polar Park: The Crusaders will host in-state rival Harvard University
As Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney waited for last month’s press conference to announce the Third Annual EBW Football Classic between the Crusaders and the Harvard Crimson this fall, something caught his eye. He noticed a news cameraman wearing a navy-blue Yale baseball cap in the DCU Club on the third floor of Polar Park.
“I like that hat,” Chesney hollered with a wide grin. The coach knows the storied football rivalry of nearly 150 years between Yale and Harvard.
The cameraman responded, “I’m from New Haven,” as he looked up and smiled back at Chesney. Yale is located in New Haven, Conn.
Chesney then joked, “wear that around today. You’ll make them (Harvard) nervous.”
Holy Cross also has a historic football rivalry against Harvard. Both teams have met 73 times since 1904 with the Crimson holding the all-time series lead of 45-26-2. However, last season, the Crusaders knocked off the Crimson on October 1st at Harvard Stadium, 30-21. It was their first win over Harvard since 2016.
The Crusaders have dominated the EBW Classic by winning the first two games with a combined score of 99-10. In the Crusaders’ Polar Park debut on Oct. 23, 2021, they annihilated Colgate University, 42-10, in front of a sold-out crowd of 9,508 fans.
Last year, the Crusaders thrashed Bucknell University, 57- 0.
Holy Cross is also coming off their fourth straight Patriots League title. They finished 12-1 (6-0 in the conference). It was the most wins in the program’s history. They also finished the season with a NCAA FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) ranking of sixth best in the country. Their lone loss came against the number one ranked and eventual FCS national champion South Dakota State in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs last December.
Chesney was named 2022 Patriots League Coach of the Year for the second straight season and the third time in his career. His team also had 18 players make the first and second All-Patriots League teams, including quarterback Matthew Sluka and receiver Jalen Coker, who earned first team honors. Both players will return for their senior seasons in 2023.
Chesney said he is happy to see his team’s increased success coincides with the impact the EBW Football Classic has had within the Worcester community. “Three years ago, when we first played here, we talked about the birth of the Woo Sox and a rebirth of Holy Cross football,” Chesney said. “We were hoping that a few years later … that we might be standing here as a team recognized on a national stage and certainly that’s what we have today.”
Since establishing the EBW Classic at Polar Park, Chesney also recognized the strong there strong partnership the last three years. “We had our athletic awards banquet here, (our) incoming freshmen night for fall camp is here, and a few of our guys are employed here over the summer with the Woo Sox,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things coming out of this relationship.
“This is unbelievable for the community,” he said. “Watching everyone be in these boxes and watching everyone be in these stands the past couple years is very impressive and something we’re really proud to unite and have this be our home away from home. Ultimately, this will probably be the last time we will talk about this in this setting and we’ll just talk about playing a game against an unbelievable opponent, with an unbelievable coach, and an unbelievable history.”
Holy Cross linebacker and team captain Jacob Dobbs said he and his teammates relish the opportunity to play in Polar Park against Harvard.
“I was kind of joking with coach Chesney on the way in here,” said Dobbs, who will play in his third EBW Classic game. “I was wondering if you can find a way to put more seats in here; put some in the outfield or something. But I really think this is going to be exciting for the community. It’s truly a blessing and a pleasure to be a part of this game.
To have Harvard here, to have it be a game that has happened for three years, it’s exciting for both of our programs. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity to play here again. It’s been fun the times we’ve played here, but having another premiere program is really exciting for the community.”The Crimson finished their 2022 season with a 6-4 record (4-3 in the Ivy League). Despite last season’s loss against Holy Cross, Tim Murphy, the Ivy League’s all-time winningest head football coach (192-87), said he looks forward to the challenge of playing a tough Crusaders team at Polar Park.
“As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan and someone who can literally remember back to ’67 listening to the pennant race on a transistor radio, you guys have no idea what that is,” he said smiling at several members of both football teams. “This is a really cool thing. We had an opportunity a couple years ago to play the Harvard-Yale game at Fenway Park and it was absolutely electric and I’m sure it will be a similar environment here.”
Murphy said his team will be ready to play come the fall. “We’re really excited playing arguably the best team on the schedule. Kudos to Coach Chesney and his players and the program. He’s done a phenomenal job. It’s truly one of the top FCS Division 1 programs in the country. For the opportunity to play a team on the schedule like that is really great. We’re excited and very appreciative of this opportunity.”
Harvard defensive lineman and captain Nate Leskovec echoes his coaches’ sentiments. “I’m super excited and fortunate to have the opportunity to play here,” he said. “I heard a lot about what it’s like to play in a baseball stadium. I missed out by a year when we played at the Red Sox (in Fenway Park), but I’m really looking forward to engaging and competing with a high-level program such as Holy Cross.
“We have a lot of respect for you guys at our end, but we like our chances. We like our chances against Holy Cross and against every team on our schedule. So, we’re looking forward, in the spirit of competition, to competing on Sept. 30th … We’ll be ready to go.”
Tickets for the EBW Classic are on sale to the general public at www.polar- park,com. For further details on the game, email the Woo Sox at info@woosox. com or by calling 508-500-1000. For updates, subscribe to the free Woo Sox newsletter at www.woosox.com.
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