A short baker’s dozen of days remain until Miller Park will be overfilled with roughly 44,000 excited fans for Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.
A man who may not have been announced as a lock for the 25-man roster, but certainly has an itinerary being written up for him, is the owner of the 13 jersey in the Brewers home clubhouse. He is left-handed pitcher…
Here’s where you probably want a joke or pun or quip with some name-based humor. You’re not going to get it here, and I’m sure Smith appreciates that (despite likely never reading this article), because as he’ll tell you: He’s heard them all. All of them. Every single one of them.
Instead, let’s focus on the player behind the monicker and give you some information on his game, his career, and how he came to be pitching for the Brewers at just 24 years of age.
Let’s tackle that list of topics in reverse order.
Smith (6’5″, 250 lb) was acquired by the Brewers for Norichika Aoki on December 5, 2013 in a trade with the Kansas City Royals. The Brewers gave up value to get value, in a classic trade that was designed to help both parent clubs right away in 2014. The Royals needed a right fielder and leadoff man and the Brewers were able to pick up a coveted asset.
Doug Melvin has made no bones about the fact that he tried to acquire Smith from Kansas City on at least one other occasion but that the two sides didn’t match up at the time. This time, however, the Brewers were encouraged by the play of Khris Davis, Logan Schafer, and even Caleb Gindl in a smaller sample size to believe that they had enough coverage and depth in the outfield.
I’d extoll the plusses and minuses of the deal, but we’re here today to profile Smith, so let’s stay focused.
Smith has been in the big leagues for parts of two seasons (both with Kansas City), but he’s been in three organizations since being drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (Note: Smith was drafted in 2007 as well out of Northgate High School in Newnan, GA by the Tampa Bay Rays, but obviously never signed.) Smith has been a starting pitcher throughout the vast majority of his time in the minor leagues, and the Brewers could have designs on him turning back into one in future seasons, but for 2013 and now, Smith really has found his groove in the bullpen.
In 18 relief appearances in 2013 for the Royals, Smith posted a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 IP (110 plate appearances against). Opponents hit a combined .170/.218/.340 with a 0.784 WHIP against reliever Smith. He struck out 38 against just six walks good for K/9 of 11.7 and K/BB of 6.33.
What’s more, even counting his numbers as a starter, left-handed hitters could only muster .157/.204/.353 against Smith. He isn’t a LOOGy by any means though as righties only slashed .235/.273/.412 on the campaign.
And so far this spring? 9.1 innings pitched, nine, hits, 11 strikeouts, zero walks, one earned run allowed (0.96 ERA).
Yeah. That’ll play.
So 2014 is shaping up with Smith lining up for back end bullpen duties alongside Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez. Assuming Jim Henderson holds down the closer’s job throughout the season, and that Rodriguez would thrive best in a consistent setup role, Smith and Kintzler could both work themselves into a true fireman-style of reliever.
I’ve talked about the benefits of that idea at length — including on the most recent Brewer Nation podcast — and how much of a strategic benefit that could offer Ron Roenicke in 2014. If all four of the “late-inning relievers” are available on a given day, then you could line up three of them for the 7th-9th innings of work and still have someone in your pocket ready to put out any “fires” in middle relief.
Regardless of the duties, Smith will be an extremely valuable asset in 2014. Roenicke could have as many as three left-handed relievers at any one time this coming season, but Smith may very well prove to be the best of them all. And if he’s able to transition into an effective starting pitcher in 2015? All the better.
Helping him now and possibly to make that transition back in the future is that while Smith was primarily a fastball/slider pitcher in 2013, he also throws a curveball and even sprinkled in a changeup. According to FanGraphs.com, Smith’s fastball sits in the low 90s, the slider averages 81.5 MPH, the curve in the upper 70s and his change up, which doesn’t have strong differential, averages a tick over 85.
Whether a starter or reliever in 2015 and beyond, for now let’s simply enjoy the high strikeout rate, low walk rate, and zeros on the board.
I think we can all agree that’s the best outcome of all.
You can follow Will Smith on Twitter: @White_Willy31
Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:
- #14 Jeff Bianchi
- #15 Caleb Gindl
- #16 Aramis Ramirez
- #18 Khris Davis
- #20 Jonathan Lucroy
- #21 Juan Francisco
- #22 Matt Garza
- #23 Rickie Weeks
- #24 Lyle Overbay
- #25 Hunter Morris
- #26 Kyle Lohse
- #27 Carlos Gomez
- #29 Jim Henderson
- #30 Tyler Thornburg
- #32 Tom Gorzelanny
- #38 Wily Peralta
- #40 Johnny Hellweg
- #41 Marco Estrada
- #45 Alfredo Figaro
- #46 Hiram Burgos
- #47 Rob Wooten
- #49 Yovani Gallardo
- #50 José De La Torre
- #51 Wei-Chung Wang
- #52 Jimmy Nelson
- #53 Brandon Kintzler
- #54 Michael Blazek
- #58 Ariel Peña
- #59 Zach Duke
- #60 Kevin Shackelford
- #61 Jason Rogers
- #63 Brooks Hall
- #64 Mike Fiers
- #65 Irving Falu
- #66 Robinzon Diaz
- BONUS COLUMN: #77 David Goforth, #76 Kevin Mattison, #75 Mitch Haniger, #74 Michael Olmstead, #73 Kentrail Davis, #72 Cameron Garfield, #71 Adam Weisenburger, #70 Dustin Molleken, #67 Eugenio Velez