Looking at Will Smith’s Debut

I’ll preface this by stating the obvious. Will Smith did not have a good major league debut.

In his first big league appearance, Smith gave up five runs in 3.1 innings. He surrendered three homers, including two to Alex Rodriguez, who had looked lost almost all season.

As a result, Twitter and Kansas City sports radio has blown up, questioning why Smith was called up, why he started, and wondering if he’s damaged goods after a poor outing.

To me, it’s a lot of overreaction.

Bad starts happen. Unfortunately for Smith, his happened in his big league debut and in Yankee Stadium. That amps up the attention, good and bad. Had he thrown seven shut out innings and looked great, both sources would be touting his ability to step coolly into any situation and handle the biggest pressures. Instead, now they treat him as if he’ll vanish off the face of the earth.

It’s all or nothing. Win or lose.

A popular comparison was to Eduardo Villacis, he of the legendary meltdown in his debut. Villacis made his major league debut on May 1, 2004 in Yankee Stadium. He gave up two runs in the first inning, got through the second with no damage, then walked  two and gave up a homer in the third. After one out and a base hit in the fourth, he was pulled.

And that’s all he’s ever done in the big leagues. Villacis never threw another big league pitch.

Will Smith, however, will get another chance at some point.

Smith isn’t a big time prospect. His ceiling is of a #4 starter, and he’s more like a #5. His stuff isn’t electric, but he does have some potential in that he hasn’t walked many in the minor leagues.

So he left some pitches up, got too much of the plate. It happens. The Royals can see how he handles that failure and if he’s learned what he can’t get away with at this level that he may have been able to get by with in the minors.

Results of Will Smith's pitches.

Many are treating Smith’s start as if it was under similar circumstances as the Villacis start.

Villacis was a 24-year-old who had hardly any experience past the High A level. He wasn’t much of a long-term option and was waived within the same season. Maybe he disappointed the Royals in that one spot start to the point that he had to go, but it’s safe to say that he had no real place in the Royals plans.

Smith has at least pitched in Triple A, both in the Royals and Angels organizations. He’s added a bit of velocity and added a slider and at 22 years old, still has time to figure it out. He’ll contribute at some level. He won’t be an All-Star and he’ll (likely) never start on Opening Day in the big leagues, but he’s a guy who could fill out the last spot in a starting rotation.

Now, if he goes out and gets another start and blows up again and still hits the middle of the plate all game and doesn’t adjust, well, he’s probably headed back to Omaha once Everett Teaford is off the disabled list. If he can correct mistakes, he might be in the rotation all year.

Yankee Stadium is an intimidating place to make your debut, but if Smith is going to be a full-time big leaguer, he’s going to be pitching there at some point. The Royals saw how he performed and now have information to evaluate him later.

This same kind of situation arises with other players. Luke Hochevar gets rocked to start the year and he’s given up on, then rebounds with some good starts. While we’ve all seen that scenario before, but with whatever the most recent result happens the be, the reaction starts to get extreme. “Cut him” or “he’s figured it out” are the common reactions. It happens with any bad outing or good outing for whatever pitcher.

I guess that investment is good to see from fans, but it tends to get out of hand. Will Smith isn’t Eduardo Villacis. He’ll have his share of good and bad appearances. Maybe he never pans out, but at this point, he’s somewhat in the Royals plans. They’ve mentioned him at various points and he saw time in spring training with the major league team.

Let’s let the kid have a second chance before he’s lumped into the bin of forgotten Royals.

Topics: AL Central, Baseball, Eduardo Villacis, Kansas City, Kansas City Royals, KC, KC Royals, MLB, Royals, Will Smith

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  • jim fetterolf

    Very good post, Mike (may I call you Mike?). Have been following the hysteria and the questions of using what one site rates as the 15th best prospect in the system for a spot start in Yankee Stadium and you are about the only blogger who seems to agree with my take, which is that Will Smith got the start because of his spot in Omaha’s rotation and because he is a lefty.
     
    Those who think one start will ruin his confidence probably don’t realize that if his confidence was fragile he would be selling furniture or insurance rather than being a professional pitcher. I see yesterday’s opportunity as a learning experience for him that will serve him well when he gets back to Omaha in a week or two. The start gave him a good idea of what happens when you throw a flat, straight, 93mph fastball up and over the plate. From what I saw he just was not finishing, getting the ball down with some movement. He did look a lot like “bad” Luke Hochevar in fact with similar results.
     
    Very good post, Mr. Engle. I am not alone:) Thanks.