Posted: 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Jeff Luhnow is a fan of scooping up oddball talents with Moneyball-ian "defects," and one of the most commonly discriminated against groups in baseball is the short righthanded pitcher. Pitchers lacking in stature not only often have to add effort to their deliveries to produce velocity, but also have trouble creating downward plane on their heaters which can lead to issues with home runs. So far for Smith, who stands 6'0", neither of those things have been much of an issue. Pitching as a 20 year old in the high-A Carolina league, Smith has a 2.85 ERA and a K/BB north of 3/1- making him a player that Jeff Luhnow likely zoned in on. He has allowed just 93 hits in 104.1 IP, and his statistics have been all around tremendous for two consecutive years now. How does he stack up from a scouting perspective?
Smith has a very simple, easy delivery. He generates most of his velocity with his legs and trunk rotation, and his arm action is clean. His fastball has a fair amount of life which helps its average low 90s velocity play up some. Smith heavily relies on his above-average curveball which sinks and dives away from right handed hitters. Smith is able to control the spin on the pitch well and alter its shape, but sometimes it flattens out a bit too much. He effectively mixes these two pitches and uses the curve in all counts. He can generate lots of swings and misses with the pitch and its downward motion makes it effective against both lefties and righties.
Smith also throws a decent changeup which he can use to keep hitters honest. His delivery is repeated really well and projects as a legitimate third offering down the road. Though sometimes Smith's velocity can waiver and he can stick in the high 80s, he just as often hits as high as 94 on the gun and there's no telling where he'll settle in with his fastball in the long term. He's a good athlete and shows a great feel for pitch sequencing and his craft as a whole. He's very polished for a player his age and might be ready to jump to Corpus Christi right now if that's the path that the Astros want to put him on.
Smith is a fun prospect to watch and has been extremely successful so far, but what is his ceiling? It's hard to say. He's not likely to look too different from a stuff perspective down the line than he does right now, other than perhaps adding a tick or two to his fastball. He already has one plus pitch in his curveball and that combined with his pitchability and command of two other average offerings gives him the potential to stick in a rotation in the long term. If he is able to sit around 91-93 rather than 88-91, he could be a #3 type, and in exchange for Justin Maxwell, that would be a coup. He should be able to move to the high minors very soon and contribute in the big leagues within the next two years assuming his health and command remain strong.
Overall, Smith should be seen as a superb return for the aging and oft-injured platoon outfielder that Justin Maxwell is at this stage in his career. He should fit in well for the Royals, but Smith is a valuable prospect that the Astros had to pounce on when given the opportunity. He should fit in somewhere in the Astros' top 20 prospects alongside their other mid-range arms such as Nick Tropeano, Vincent Velasquez and Andrew Thurman, and fans should be thrilled with the Maxwell deal.