May 10, 2013
The Situation: With Clayton Richard becoming the latest Padres starter to land on the DL, the club is calling up Smith from Double-A San Antonio. He’ll join the rotation and make his big-league debut against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Background: San Diego’s 14th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Smith was selected out of the University of Oklahoma after beginning his collegiate career at Texas JUCO power Howard College. The right-hander’s velocity has jumped a tick since his college days, and his command continues to improve. Following a solid full-season debut at High-A Lake Elsinore last season, Smith has been the Texas League’s most dominant starter in the early going this year. Through six starts, he has yielded just four earned runs on 17 hits in 31.1 innings, walking six and striking out 37. The Texan did not rank in Baseball Prospectus’ top 10 Padres prospects over the offseason, though he certainly would if they were re-ranked today.
Scouting Report: Smith’s calling card is his big fastball, which sits between 92-96 mph and reached triple digits during a recent start against Midland. He was up to 98 mph and held his velocity through five innings and 70 pitches when I saw him on April 23. Some debate exists over Smith’s future role; many scouts believe he’ll eventually find a home as a late-inning reliever, but his fastball velocity, repeatable delivery, command, and deception give him a chance to stick in a rotation.
Although the 6-foot-4 hurler lacks plus fastball life and creates little downward plane with his drop-and-drive delivery, he hides the ball extremely well. Hitters don’t see the baseball until it explodes out of his hand, enabling his velocity to play up a tick and induce consistently late swings. He has a plus-plus fastball with a plus command/control profile. Much of that starter/reliever debate comes because Smith doesn’t have big secondaries––he’ll feature a potential average changeup and a fringy curveball/slider mix. If he’s able to locate the offspeed effectively, though, the total package with the fastball may be enough for him to find a home as a mid-to-back rotation starter. If not, he should have little trouble ultimately settling in as a late-inning arm.
Immediate Big-League Future: At present, there’s no telling whether the 23-year-old righty is being called up to fill a temporary void or is set for a longer look. His success (or lack thereof) in the short term may determine that. While Richard is on the DL with a relatively minor intestinal virus, he has also struggled with mechanics and has allowed 28 runs in 26.1 innings. The Padres have three young starting options on the 60-day DL (Casey Kelly, Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland), so Smith may have the opportunity to pitch his way into a full-time role this season. He’s a relatively polished arm who should have at least some success if he continues to command the fastball. —Jason Cole
And a GIF, courtesy of @woedoctor:
Fantasy Impact: Smith may have the highest actual value-to-name recognition ratio of any prospect who's gotten the Call-Up post treatment so far this year. This obscurity stems from Smith’s absence from preseason Padres prospect lists, though some of that was due to the huge depth in their farm system. What Smith has going for him from a fantasy perspective is the same thing I said about Tony Cingrani when he came up: deception can go a long way towards impressive initial results. Of course, he's not as good a fantasy prospect as Cingrani, but the point still stands.
In NL-only formats, any San Diego starting pitcher becomes relevant, and Smith is no exception. Unfortunately, as his stay may be abbreviated, you're probably not going to want to go much higher than $3-4 in FAAB, unless your team is desperate for pitching. There is a chance that he’ll stick, so this isn't an Allen Webster one-and-done situation (and no, I still don't want to talk about it). In mixed redraft leagues, he's a name to file away in case he puts together a nice stretch. If all goes as well as possible, he could be a nice start at home in 12-team leagues and deeper. In dynasty formats, this is actually a guy who might be unowned, even if your roster has minor-league spots—so do the due diligence and see if he's owned. He is definitely worth stashing in any format deeper than 12 teams, as he could be a very useful pitcher if his 2013 development is a real step forward. —Bret Sayre
Jason Cole is an author of Baseball Prospectus.