For the last few seasons, the Mets’ bullpen has been in flux, to put it lightly. Other than a few dependable arms, the bullpen seemed to be held together with a shoelace and a dream. This year, the team has a a couple of relievers who can be depended on with the signing of Trevor May and the resurgence of Edwin Diaz, but there are still several question marks.
One of the answers could be Drew Smith, who has had success at the major league level before. While the last look he had wasn’t so great, he was also coming back from Tommy John surgery and was being questionably deployed. This season, with the lack of strong bullpen pieces, there should be more than enough room for Smith to prove himself once again.
Drew Smith hails from Fort Worth, Texas, and he played for his high school team in Crowley. He graduated high school and went undrafted, so he went to Dallas Baptist University to play college baseball. After his junior season, he was drafted in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers with the 99th overall pick.
That year, Smith threw had a 0.29 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 31.0 innings, with 27.2 of those innings having been in the Low-A New York-Penn League. Now, these numbers were probably inflated due to a somewhat small sample size, but he still was impressive.
In 2016, Smith still looked strong, spending the whole year with the Tigers’ Single-A team, totalling 48.2 with a 2.96 ERA, 2.59 FIP, and a 11.47 K/9. Smith started 2017 with the Tigers’ High-A team, but on April 28, he was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays as a player to be named later in return for Mikie Mahtook. He spent a few months with Tampa Bay, and even moved up to Double-A and then Triple-A for a little bit. But on July 27, Drew Smith was traded for the second time that season, to the Mets in return for Lucas Duda.
The Mets assigned him to Double-A, where he finished his 2017 season. In 15.0 innings on there, he had a 1.80 ERA, 2.83 FIP, and 10.20 K/9. The next season, Smith started in Double-A, but after only 4.1 innings across two games, he was promoted to Triple-A, where he had a 2.76 ERA, 4.57 FIP, and a 8.27 K/9. The inflated FIP and deflated K/9 could be attributed to the fact that in 2018 the Mets’ Triple-A team was still in Las Vegas, an extremely hitter-friendly park.
On June 22, 2018, Smith got called up to the major league team. He ended up becoming a steady piece of a rocky bullpen that season, throwing 28.0 innings across 27 games, with a 3.54 ERA, 3.66 FIP, and an abnormally low (for Smith) 5.79 K/9. In his first partial season in the major leagues, he was worth 0.3 fWAR, and he looked to be under heavy consideration to become a valuable piece of the Mets bullpen.
Then, during 2019 spring training, Smith’s trajectory was ground to a halt when it was revealed he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery, completely wiping out his 2019 season. He was beginning to rehab by the time 2020 spring training rolled around, and it looked like he could become a midseason addition to the Mets’ bullpen. Then, once again, Smith’s progress was slowed by factors outside his control, this time a global pandemic, which shut down the sport for months.
Finally, when summer camp began in July, Smith had no more speed bumps in front of him, and he was ready to go. His 2020 wasn’t the greatest—with a 6.43 ERA and 5.76 FIP—but he had a more typical 9.00 K/9. However, that was in a very small sample size of 7.0 innings across eight games, and Smith was questionably deployed at times. One of these times was being put into a tie game after not pitching for days and giving up a walk-off grand slam, after Luis Rojas said that he didn’t want to put Smith into a game with a sizable lead due to his lack of in-game playing time.
In 2021, Smith is fully removed from the Tommy John surgery that derailed his progress, and so far, he’s looked good in spring training. Smith’s projections for this season are suboptimal, with ZiPS projecting him to have a 4.29 ERA, 4.48 FIP, and 7.71 K/9 and being worth 0.1 fWAR. This seems to be taking 2020 into much more account than 2018 and his entire minor league career. If he does end up close to the ZiPS projections he’ll be fine, probably better than some of the other bullpen pieces the Mets could use.
But there’s reason to believe Smith could very easily go back to his former self, in which case he could be a secret weapon for the Mets in the bullpen. If he turns out to be the pitcher he was in 2020, the Mets will set their sights elsewhere, but if looks like the pitcher he was in 2018 and his minor league career, the Mets would have a good reliever for years to come.