Saturday, December 30, 2006

Works in Progress: Brett Smith

Age: 23 (24 next August)
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220 lbs
Drafted: 2nd Round in 2004 out of the University of California-Irvine
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: Smith throws a fastball around 90-93 with a little bit of tail sink when he is throwing it right, thanks to his height. When his mechanics get out of whack, it straightens out. His performance usually follows when his fastball straights out. He also uses his height to sink down a very effective 80 mph changeup, which has been his bread and butter since college. He left college with a decent slider and curveball, but he only throws the curveball right now. It's about the same speed as the changeup and gets him a few strikeouts, although it's an average pitch. Smith pitches to contact and induces a decent amount of ground balls (1.66 g/f in 2006).

Command: Brett Smith has average control and command. He lives at the knees. His deceptive height and sinking arsenal keep batters from teeing off on his 90 mph fastball, but also lead to about 3 walks per 9 innings. He keeps his pitch count down by pitching to contact, but that also makes him very hittable.

Health: One of Smith's big assets is his superb health record. He pitched two 100+ inning seasons in college and then has followed it up with two 140+ inning seasons in the minors. At 23, Smith has passed the period in his career where arm injuries develop. I put a lot of stock in a healthy pitcher.

Performance: Smith had a very good college career, culminating with a 2.54 ERA junior year where he struck out 113 in 113 innings. He earned himself a 2nd round draft pick, but didn't sign until after the 2004 season was over. He spent 2004 between Tampa and Charleston, where he combined for an ERA of 4.67. It wasn't an entirely unsucessful year, as he managed to strike out 95 and walk just 31 in 140.2 innings. The strikeouts weren't encouraging, but the Yankees bet that they would eventually come. His control had actually improved since college. Smith spent all of 2006 in Tampa, where he had a pretty good year. He led the league in innings with 158 and was 5th in strikeouts with 119. However, his control went from excellent to average with 56 walks. His ERA was good at 3.81, but that may be decieving. Smith struggled at home, posting a 4.85 ERA. His ERA was 3.01 away from home. I really don't think that the ballpark was the reason behind this, but it is a plausible theory. Smith's mechanical problems may have surfaced in front of the home crowd. My guess is that it was just dumb luck that his problems happened to occur at home.

Comparison: It's a hard one, but I'd say Jon Garland when the year isn't 2005. Garland is a tall pitcher who creates a lot of sink, pitching to contact and eating innings. Garland relies more on a breaking pitch than Smith, but besides that they are very similar pitchers.

My Take: I'm not sure what to think about Smith. I think that he won't survive the major leagues with a WHIP of 1.40. He walks a few too many. If he can get his walks down from the 60-70 range and back in to the 45-55 range, I think that he'll manage to eat innings at the major league level. He's still only 23 years old and will get a crack at Trenton in 2007. I think that Smith will either be a 7th starter in the Yankee organization or a 5th starter on someone else's team. There are just too many higher ceiling arms in front of him. Still, a young innings eater will have value to the major league team. He should be ready for a trade or call up by the time he turns 25, in August of 2008. I think that he is a fairly safe bet to at least be some kind of below average major league starter.