Nate Smith is not going to be on many lists of top prospects in baseball. He doesn’t have the stuff that draws a lot of attention from scouts. No 95 MPH fastball here to light up the radar guns. In spite of this, Smith is now the Los Angeles Angels top pitching prospect and is certainly the closest to being available to help the big league club. The assumption could be made that the recent trades of several top pitching prospects in the Angels organization have moved Smith up the prospect list by default. But, there is more to Smith’s pitching than meets the eye. What are the reasons behind his success?
Smith was drafted by the Angels in the eighth round in 2013 out of Furman University in South Carolina. He made a quick start in the minors and, by the end of 2014, had found his way up to Double-A Arkansas. His first full season of pro ball in 2014 saw him win 11 games with a 2.97 earned run average. His 118 strikeouts in 118 innings showed a bright future was ahead.
However, with a fastball that topped out at 90-91 MPH on a good day, scouts were quick to point out that Smith’s stuff would not play up well as he climbed the minor league ladder. They said it would not be effective against better hitters. The first half of 2015 saw him win eight games and post a 2.48 ERA. Most said, the most pitcher friendly park in the Texas League was the real reason for these numbers. A late season promotion to Salt Lake in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League saw his ERA almost triple to 7.75 and left the question of which pitcher Nate Smith is closer to being unanswered.
Although Smith’s fastball is considered average by most standards, his best pitch is his changeup that has a late drop and gets deception by being thrown from the same arm slot as his fastball. Add in a slider and curveball with the ability to throw all four pitches for strikes, and Smith’s keys to success can be easily seen. He is a strike thrower that pounds the zone and only had a small issue with control early in Double-A.
Smith’s mechanics are solid. He is tall and lean and has good extension toward the plate. He has good leg push-off and lands balanced with very little elbow or shoulder torque. All of these things lead to pitcher health and, combined with his strike throwing ability, could project Smith as an innings eating #4 or #5 starter in the majors. That’s not too shabby considering that Ian Kennedy recently got $70 million from the Kansas City Royals for just such a profile.
Smith is a student of the game and has an advanced understanding of pitching. He may get his first shot as a lefty bullpen option, but being able to throw four pitches for strikes, he should at least profile as a swingman type who can give his team spot starts. In the right ballpark, his stuff may play up to greater success.
The Angels seem set pitching-wise to start the 2016 campaign, but Smith will be on the short list of players that will be relied on because of injuries or if a fresh arm is needed. He will likely begin the season in Salt Lake to keep sharp and try to figure out the hitter friendly PCL. Smith’s stuff will not blow anyone away, but the Angels have seemed to find players that have success at the major league level despite scouts disapproval along the way. Kole Calhoun is the most recent example. Crafty left handers who throw strikes and have learned how to pitch usually stick around for a long time. This Mr. Smith definitely has these qualities and seems headed for Los Angeles.