Will Smith has a decision to make.
Which event is the highlight of his Royals career so far? There’s the 6.2 inning championship-clinching start in the Texas League Championship Series last season, or there’s the combined no hitter with Kelvin Herrera on July 19, where Smith took care of the first seven innings before passing it off to Herrera.
This winter, Smith barely snuck into our top 25 prospect rankings, mostly because I thought he was a good example of how Dayton Moore can find nice throw-in prospects in trades (as he was the “extra” tossed in with Sean O’Sullivan for Alberto Callaspo), but also because he’s shown strong control through his minor league career – and has a bit of upside too.
Entering 2011, Smith had a 1.9 BB/9 and while most of his 351.2 innings came at lower levels, even after a 2.5 BB/9 in Double A, his career walkrate stands at just 2.1 BB/9 in 513 innings.
Smith stands 6’5″ and has a smooth, simple delivery. He’s not going to overpower anybody, but he overcomes that by having solid control, pitching inside (his favorite player is Bob Gibson) and getting more ground ball outs than air outs. He’s added some velocity and tightened his curveball according to some reports too.
After spending most of 2010 getting shuttled up and down and back up again throughout the Angels system, the Royals parked him in Wilmington in High A until they brought him up for the Texas League Playoffs. At Wilmington, he threw 54.2 innings over eight starts, striking out 51 and walking four.
That’s a neat trick.
His performance convinced the Royals to stick him in Double A all season, and he had a decent year after a rocky start. In 161.1 innings across 27 starts, Smith compiled a 3.85 ERA and won 13 games – including his seven no-hit innings on July 19.
I had concerns coming into this year about Smith. He’s only 22 years old and jumped from 115 innings pitched in 2009 to 163.2 in 2010. Sometimes, that kind of spike can create injury problems the next year, but Smith not only served as a workhorse, he picked up steam as the year went on.
In every month from May to September, Smith simultaneously decreased his walk percentage while increasing his strikeout percentage. Over his 14 second half starts, he carried a 3.18 ERA and had a 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Smith’s next step depends on the other arms in the Royals system. If Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer (who is mentioned in the list of potential spring training invitees) start the year in Omaha, Smith will probably bide his time in Northwest Arkansas until one of them gets promoted. Barring injury or collapse, he should see about 20 starts in Omaha if not more. He may even be a September spot starter depending on how things work out.