If you pay attention to this website really closely, you may have noticed that I write about Kyle Smith quite a bit—certainly more than any other writer I’ve read. He’s my guy. I’ve decided to drive his bandwagon because unfortunately, I’m seemingly the only occupant of that wagon. It’s a lonely wagon.
And I don’t really understand why. It’s not that people are down on Smith, but they’re not nearly as high on him as I believe they should be. With this post, I’m going to let you know why everyone should be excited about Smith. Fangraphs put Smith into the Royals top-10 prospect rankings, but he’s nowhere to be seen in the Baseball America top-10, and that’s with other pitchers like Sam Selman and Jason Adam in there.
Near the top of that list, which included Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi, was Kyle Zimmer, and it makes no sense to me that Zimmer is rated so much higher than Smith. Set aside their makeup for now—Zimmer has the prototypical body for a top-notch pitcher while Smith is a bit small. Looking strictly at how they have performed as prospects, they seem to be very similar with Smith being a full year younger.
Both started professional baseball last season by doing a short stint in Rookie ball and then heading to Kane County. People were happy with Zimmer’s performance there. In nearly 30 IP at Kane County, he had a 2.43 ERA, 29 SO (8.80 K/9), and only 8 BB. That’s pretty good, especially for someone who hasn’t pitched much in his life. In fact, Smith may have more pitching experience than Zimmer, though not at the college level.
In comparison, Smith fared a little better than Zimmer at Kane County. He pitched 67.1 innings with 87 SO and 20 BB. Smith’s ERA was a touch higher at 2.94, but that’s probably due to a BABIP of .349. Think about that. Smith had a BABIP of .349 and still had an ERA under three, but that’s not unbelievable because he struck out 11.63 batters per nine innings. He faced exactly 300 hitters in both Rookie ball and low A and struck out 98 of them (that’s almost a third). Of course, Smith is a high school draft pick so he’s doing all of this at 19 years old. Zimmer is a young college signee, and was 20 last year.
For a comparison, Danny Duffy had a 11.24 K/9 rate and a 2.40 FIP at low A. Smith’s FIP was 2.13. So, as far as performance goes, there’s no reason to not love Smith.
Let’s return to that makeup. At 6’ 0” and 170 pounds, Smith is not a big guy, and this is the heart of why people don’t hype him more. Because statistical analysis and looking past appearance has become more a part of the game recently, we sometimes forget that it’s still engrained in us to look at things like a guy’s height and make assumptions about what that guy can be. Does his body structure make him more prone to injury? I’m not sure. But I know he was healthier than Zimmer in 2012. For now, can we not get behind him because he’s doing really well and wait for an injury to sour us on him?
And let’s not forget that there are pitchers who have been successful with shorter statures. Pedro Martinez was 5’ 11”. Roy Oswalt is 6’0”. In fact, Oswalt, I think, is a decent comp for where Smith could end up if everything comes together. Oswalt threw a little harder than Smith does right now, but it’s not unheard of for a pitcher to gain some velocity in his early 20s as his body continues to develop and his motion becomes more refined.
How’s his stuff? you may ask. That’s harder to determine. I’ve never seen him play, but the reports on him range from potentially wicked stuff to above average stuff. Most agree that his fastball will probably end up around the 91-93 range, touching 95 at times. Some claim that his curveball is just devastating, and in this clip of him pitching at the Underarmor game, it looks pretty good. Here’s a report from Royals Revival on him, which I was glad to see was very optimistic.*
*Note in the comment left, a person who knows Smith mentions what a good person he is. This seems in keeping with the different pieces I’ve read on him which mention a terrific work ethic and good character.
Looking at Smith, I can’t see any reason not to be optimistic about him. He’s going to be a 20-year-old pitcher at high A next year, and if the writing on him is any indication, he has a wonderful pitching mind. He faced top-notch competition in high school coming from Florida and blew that competition away. The only conclusion I can reach is that Smith is underrated because of his height, which may be a good thing for the Royals. They took him in the fourth round, and if he continues to develop and becomes an Oswalt or Tim Hudson, the Royals can take a bow for a wonderful find. They can say they looked past his height and saw the competitor in him instead—all that cliché crap.
Regardless, it’s time for people to start talking more about this kid. When Zimmer finds his way to the majors, it may be in the shadow of Smith.