By Mike Steffanos
Joe Smith was the Mets third round pick last season out of Wright State University. He's a right-handed sidearming relief pitcher, and projects to fill a Chad Bradford type role in the major leagues. What separates Smith from normal sidearmers like Bradford is that he is able to combine the tricky arm angle with 90+ velocity. Here is a scouting report on Smith from Baseball America after the draft:
Smith is one of the more improbable success stories in college baseball. He had shoulder surgery as a high school senior in 2002 and couldn't crack the Wright State roster in his first year at college. When he made the team as a walk-on in 2004, he used a high three-quarters arm slot and pitched at 85-87 mph. After Rob Cooper took over as head coach before the 2005 season, new assistant coach Greg Lovelady suggested Smith drop down to a sidearm delivery. That usually adds movement and subtracts velocity, but Smith's fastball now sits at 88-91 mph and reaches 94. He also throws a nasty slider and his changeup has improved this spring as well. Hitters have trouble picking up his pitches, as evidenced by his regular-season 0.75 ERA--which would lead NCAA Division I if he weren't five innings short of qualifying. Smith could move quickly as a pro reliever.
The Mets signed Smith and sent him to Brooklyn to begin his pro baseball career. Smith dominated at that level, earning him a late season promotion to AA-Binghamton. He continued to dominate right-handers at that level, but had some difficulties against lefties. Still, considering that it was the end of a long year that started with a full season of college ball and ended in Double-A, it was a remarkable first season for Smith. Here are his overall numbers for last year and his lefty/righty splits:
|Joe Smith 2006 Minor League Stats|
|Joe Smith RH/LH Splits|
Total 2006 Both Levels
Let's take a look at some scouting reports on Joe Smith from after his inaugural pro season. Baseball America had Smith ranked as the number nine prospect in the Mets system:
Strengths: Smith is unique because he throws much harder than typical sidearmers, and his 89-91 mph fastball has sinking, fading action. It tops out at 94. He stays on top of an 81-83 mph, two-plane slider that destroys righthanders. They hit just .104 against him in pro ball.
Weaknesses: The key to Smith reaching his ceiling is his changeup. He never needed it in college, but he does in pro ball to keep advanced lefthanders honest.
The Future: If he can make his changeup an average pitch, Smith should be an excellent setup man. Without it, he'd be just a righthanded specialist.
Here's a small portion of Scout.com's report on Smith:
Averaging over ten strikeouts per nine innings in both his college career and as a professional thus far, some may get the misconception that Smith is looking for the strikeout. He actually is on the mound to induce ground ball outs with his sinking two-seam fastball and sliders. He gets over twice as many ground ball outs as he does fly outs, and while he will strike out his fair share of batters, he is looking to get contact on the mound and get out of the inning in as few pitches as possible. The only thing standing in his way in realizing his full potential is better command of the wicked movement he gets with his pitches.
Although Smith's delivery is more of a sidearm style rather than the extreme submarine delivery of Chad Bradford, his velocity and movement enable him to give right-handed batters fits. The Mets have pushed him hard, and are likely to continue to do so. With some organizations, Joe Smith would have a chance to win a bullpen job out of camp. He's already demonstrated that he can get right-handers out at the Double-A level, although his control would have been better. While I think he has a slight chance to win a job with the Mets, I think it's more likely he starts the year in Binghamton or New Orleans. It's conceivable; however, that we could see him in New York before the season is over.
2007 Bullpen Previews:
Chan Ho Park
Joe Smith (This Article)
Four Other Names for You
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up