2018 Royals Season Preview – Burch Smith

This is the second of many Kings of Kauffman player season previews. There are going to be plenty of new faces in the KC bullpen this season, with Burch Smith likely being one of them. After spending over two years away from the game due to injury, Smith returned to baseball in 2017. Can he stay healthy and contribute as a relief pitcher in Kansas City this season? 

If you haven’t yet read the Kings of Kauffman season preview for Andres Machado, I highly suggest doing so. Machado is one of quite a few guys who could catch the eyes of Royals fans this season. With that said, another new piece that could potentially contribute to the bullpen in 2018 is Burch Smith. Smith stands six feet, four inches tall and weighs 215 pounds. He has the frame of a durable pitcher, but his injury history certainly points in the complete opposite direction.

The 27-year-old righty didn’t throw a professional pitch from mid-2014 until last season due to a multitude of arm problems, including Tommy John surgery. He finally made his return to baseball in 2017, pitching in the Rays’ minor league system. Acquired in the December 14 Rule 5 Draft by the Mets and subsequently traded to the Royals, Smith is looking to make his long-awaited return to the major leagues in 2018.

What did he offer last season?

Smith spent his 2017 season in A+ ball and AAA ball, as well as the Arizona Fall League. In 37 innings with the Rays’ Advanced-A affiliate, he struck out 33 batters and finished with a 2.43 ERA. Smith totaled 19 strikeouts and had an extremely low 1.65 ERA in 16.1 innings at AAA Durham. In the Arizona Fall League, Smith turned many heads with his performance, striking out 29 batters and posting a 2.40 ERA in 20.1 innings. When healthy, Smith certainly showed he can still perform at a high level. In a Rule 5 Draft preview, here’s what J.J. Cooper of Baseball America wrote about Burch Smith’s resurgence:

“Both at the end of the season at Triple-A Durham and in the Arizona Fall League, Smith sat 94-96 mph with his fastball, flashed a knee-buckling 74-76 mph curveball and showed a swing-and-miss 79-81 mph changeup.”

What can we expect in 2018?

Before I provide my analysis, let’s take a look at one more quote from Cooper’s article:

“Though he’s 27 and has had serious arm health issues, Smith is major league ready and has the stuff to help a team as a back-end starter or move to the bullpen.”

Although it’s asking a lot, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to look past the injury history and imagine Burch Smith contributing in 2018. He likely won’t be pitching in the rotation, but coming out of the pen should suit him well. Steamer projects Smith to make 10 appearances this year, pitch 10 innings and post an ERA of 4.95. His K/9 is projected to sit at 8.00, right around where it sat in A+ Charlotte in 2017. 10 appearances for an MLB-ready talent like Smith seems low, so I’m taking the over. I’ll take the under on the 4.95 ERA, especially if Smith stays in the bullpen for the entirety of 2018. The projected 8.00 K/9 seems about right: I’ll take the even for that one.

The verdict

If he can stay healthy, Burch Smith could be a solid bullpen piece for Kansas City in 2018. MiLB (Minor League Baseball) performance doesn’t always translate to the MLB but nonetheless, Smith showed enough to give Royals fans hope for the future. Turning 28 in April, there is still time for him to carve out a successful career. Don’t hold your breath on him joining the starting rotation but if you’re a fan of bullpen guys, Burch Smith is right up your alley. Keep an eye on him (and his arm) as the 2018 season approaches.

What do you think Royals fans? Does Smith have potential? Could he contribute out of the bullpen this season? Is his injury history too significant to ignore? We’ll soon find out. Let us know what you think!