"No, not really," Joe Smith
said if he ever expected this type of advancement in his first professional season. "I was just down there having a blast in Brooklyn. We started out in last place and by the time I left Brooklyn we were back in first. That's what I was focused on."
In just 17 appearances with the Brooklyn Cyclones, Smith notched nine saves and posted a 0.45 ERA while striking out 28 batters in 20 innings and limiting opposing NY-Penn League batters to a .141 batting average before getting the call all the way up to double-A.
"When they told me I was moving up, I was like 'alright, St. Lucie ought to be fun'," said Smith. "Then they told me I was going to Binghamton, and I was like, 'where?'."
After tossing scoreless games in his first four appearances with the Binghamton Mets, Smith has faltered in their most recent road trip. Still, experiencing some success at one of the higher minor league levels, it puts him one step closer to the big leagues.
"No, you can't think about that stuff," Smith said when asked if pitching in Shea Stadium soon has entered his mind. "If you think about that stuff and what the front office is going to do, you're just going to drive yourself crazy. Nobody knows what's going to happen. You just need to go out and do your job, and for me, it's to pitch. I've got to do what they've brought me here to do."
With a 5.06 ERA in eight appearances for Binghamton thus far, Smith has not experienced the same success he had in the short-season leagues earlier this season. Regardless, he is pitching with a confidence seldom found in first-year players.
"I feel good," Smith said about his stuff right now. "I've given up more hits and more walks than I wanted to, but there's a little bit of a difference between hitters between where I was at and here. I'm learning a lot, especially from these older guys. They're helping me out a lot and hopefully I can learn more and see what happens."
With incredible movement on all of his pitches, he sometimes has a hard time finding the strike zone. He already has walked more batters in fewer appearances in double-A and rediscovering the type of command he had in Brooklyn is atop his list of things to do.
"I have my three pitches," said the Wright State product. "I'm just basically trying to have better command of them. That's what it's all about, not how good your stuff is, but being consistent with it. That's what I'm working on right now, being consistent with all of my stuff, getting ground ball outs, and getting out of there quick."
A contact pitcher more so than a strikeout pitcher, Smith's game is attacking batters and forcing them to hit ground balls.
"I definitely see an aggressive type pitcher with good stuff, good sinking action on his fastball, and a guy that wants to be out on the field when the heat's on," said Binghamton pitching coach Mark Brewer. "That's what we've seen from him up to this point."
One of the unique organizational philosophies, at least in regards to Joe Smith, has been a laid back approach and allowing him to get his feet wet in his first season of professional baseball without much tinkering.
"They've pretty much left me alone," he said of what changes have been made in the pros. "Actually when I first went to Brooklyn, the pitching coach would never talk to me. I was like 'you've got to have something for me and he goes 'I'm not saying anything because you're getting people out so just keep doing what you're doing.' From what I understand that's how their system works."
"If you're getting people out they're not going to mess with you," Smith continued. "When you get in that rut and start struggling they might have to show you some film, then they'll start tinkering with you. As of right now they said to just go out and keep doing what you're doing. It's working. If ain't broken, don't fix it."
Smith's whirlwind debut season has recently included finding out he will be joining the game's elite prospects in the Arizona Fall League, quite an honor for a first-year player.
"Definitely, you hear people talking about it," Smith said of being selected to the AFL. "I'd love the opportunity to go there and play. That's where a lot of great players go. That'd be a lot of fun to go there. But like I said, I can't worry about that stuff. I'll love it and have a blast with it."
Armed with a fastball that sits 86-92 MPH, a devastating slider with a ton of movement, and a developing changeup, Smith has a plan on the mound.
"My slider is kind of out my out pitch for righties," said the 22-year old. "I like to throw a changeup in there to keep people off-balance. It's worked so far, so that's good. Once I get that location down a little better, hopefully things will start picking up a little bit."
While his stuff has been impressive, it is Smith's arm slot and release point that has conjured up images of a harder throwing version of Chad Bradford
, although his slot isn't as low.
"Kind of in-between," Smith said of his delivery, not really a sub-mariner nor a side-armer. "I'm just trying to make the ball move and miss the sweet spot of the bat. That's what it is all about."
"It's a very low, low three-quarter to the side," Mark Brewer added. "He breaks down the back side and gets down into the zone where his slot comes from. It's not like a Kent Tekulve, but it's getting down there pretty close. It's kind of like a Steve Schmoll
, who we have in AAA, although this guy is running it up there anywhere from 89-93 MPH at times and that's definitely something from that slot."
Smith's unique arm slot and delivery not only allows him to help him disguise his pitches a little longer than most, it helps him gain a ton of movement with his pitches.
"My pitching coach at Wright State was looking for somebody to drop down," Smith revealed where he first learned to pitch with his arm lower. "I told him I'd try it and he was like 'get up there'. I did it one day and he told me I was staying like that."
"I was like 'I don't know, how about every once in a while' and he told me to do it every pitch," he continued. "So we tried it the first year and it went well. The second year it went even better and fortunately I got drafted in the third round and now I'm in double-A so I can't complain."
Smith's combination of stuff, arm slot, and release point has made him extremely effective at inducing ground balls and as a result, he has been fast-tracked to the big leagues.
"Oh, most definitely," Brewer said of Smith's arm slot being the main reason he's able to keep his pitches down so low. "He's going to make a living getting contact down in the zone and getting ground balls. That's exactly what he sets out to do each and every time he goes out there."
Drafted less than three months ago, right-handed reliever Joe Smith is on the fast track to the big leagues. After dominating NY-Penn League batters, he was sent all the way up to double-A Binghamton and now he is on his way to the Arizona Fall League with the elite prospects in the game at the beginning of October.
Joe Smith is on the fast track to the big leagues and his stuff and arm slot are big reasons why.