With their 7th round in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Mets selected Kevin Smith, a left-handed pitcher out of the University of Georgia. Over the course of his three years with the Bulldogs, the southpaw had a cumulative 4.17 ERA in 170.1 innings, having allowed 165 hits, walked 77, and struck out 186. Smith and the Mets agreed to a $222,300 signing bonus- roughly $300,000 less than slot value- and the southpaw officially became part of the New York Mets organization. He was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones and posted a 0.76 ERA in 23.2 innings that summer, starting three games and pitching out of the bullpen in nine.
The Mets assigned Smith to the St. Lucie Mets to begin the season, and the southpaw was surprisingly good. Over the course of 17 starts, he posted a 3.05 ERA in 85.2 innings, allowing 83 hits, walking 24, and striking out 102. Along with Tony Dibrell, he helped form a fearsome twosome at the top of St. Lucie’s rotation. At the end of July, the southpaw was promoted to Double-A, generally considered the make-or-break point for minor league players considered prospects. Smith’s body of work in Binghamton is still a fraction of what it was in St. Lucie, but the 22-year-old left-hander has barely missed a beat, posting a 3.45 ERA in 31.1 innings, allowing 25 hits, walking 15, and striking out 28.
The unheralded draftee has become something of a lightning rod of late. While not necessarily divisive, he has earned unusually high praise from some evaluators and is not high on the radar of others. Baseball America pegged him as the Mets’ 8th top prospect during their most recent update in July, while MLB Pipeline has him at 11. Conversely, neither Baseball Prospectus nor Amazin’ Avenue hold Smith in particularly high regard.
The pitcher I saw unfortunately looked more like the pessimistic projection than the optimistic one. Smith’s fastball sat 88-91 MPH, featuring arm-side run and little-to-no sink. Its movement resembled an inverted cutter, but the break was too gradual to be deceptive. Both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America describe the fastball as a “high-spin” offering, which it may well be, but Smith’s low-three-quarters arm slot means that movement is horizontal and not vertical, as is currently in vogue among the Gerrit Coles and Justin Verlanders of the world. The fastball got hit on a line and on the fly all day, though only once was it truly tattooed.
The lefty’s best offering was clearly his slider, which breaks enough to pass as a curve but makes its 10-6 drop late and sharp. It is no doubt a weapon, and was the source of nearly every whiff Smith got on the day. The pitch ranged from 81-84 MPH, and Smith seemed to flatten and firm it up on occasion, but when the pitch started at thigh-level and ended in the dirt, he had the Hartford hitters chasing. All the better, Smith had good command of the slider, working it either at the bottom of the zone or below, and off the outside edge to left-handed hitters. He’s been brutal on lefties all year, limiting them to a .504 OPS in 129 plate appearances- and the slider combined with his arm angle is a big reason why.
Unfortunately, Hartford ran out just two left-handed hitters on the day, and Smith didn’t have enough to fool the righties consistently. He broke out a changeup that sat 82-84 MPH the second time through the order which got a couple whiffs, but between the lack of velocity separation and minimal break it had, it looked better only in a few uses while hitters were sitting fastball.
The outlook isn’t entirely gloomy, but I worry about Smith’s ability to work longer outings without more platoon protection. He’s young for Double-A, and just hit the 7-day IL with an injury of indeterminate origin, but that hopefully is not too serious. With an offseason to add refinement and perhaps even some velocity or a different spin axis on the fastball, or a bit more bite on the changeup, it could go a long way towards Smith solidifying himself as a potential major league contributor down the road.