5. Will Smith, lhsp
Birthday: 07/1989 Height: 6’5" Weight: 215
Advanced Rookie Ball – 73 innings ERA: 3.08 K/BB: 12.67 GO/AO: 1.30
Here’s a few of the players whom the Angels have drafted in the seventh round or later this decade: Howie Kendrick, Mike Napoli, Nick Adenhart, Jordan Walden, Mark Trumbo, Trevor Reckling, and Peter Bourjos. I suspect only one or two other MLB teams could assemble a list with that level of talent (though I don’t have time just now to confirm that).
Point is, the Angels do better than most in the later rounds of the draft, and appear to have scored big once again by taking William Smith in the 7th round in 2008. As with some of the players above, legendary Angel scout/coach Tom Kotchman played a central role in finding and drafting the 19 year-old lefty, and then managed him in his breakout debut on the advanced rookie league Orem Owlz.
Will’s ‘08 numbers were strong across the board - except for one, which was superlative: 12.67. That is how many batters, on average, Will struck out for every one that he walked. That kind of control for a 19-year-old is outstanding, and catapulted Will to the front of Baseball America’s Pioneer League pitching prospect rankings and futureangels.com’s Top Ten Halos Prospects list. He also struck out over a batter an inning, posted a solid 1.30 GO/AO, and gave up an acceptable number of homeruns (especially for the Pioneer League).
Will was more human when it came to yielding hits, giving up exactly one an inning. In a hitters’ league, that ratio is not especially alarming (or even higher than average), but I do think that it highlights what we should look out for when Will faces more advanced competition. Because Will pounds the strike zone with such regularity, the opposition knows that they’re going to get hittable pitches, and therefore they’ll swing both early and often. At the upper levels, where the opposition is better able to catch up with his stuff, that means he’ll get hit. How he adapts his pitching style to that inevitability will determine his level of performance.
Working in his favor is the potential for his stuff to take another step forward. Will’s a big kid - 6’5", 215 to be exact - and with that size there’s reason to believe that his fastball, already a plus pitch with low 90’s velocity and a good downward angle, will get even nastier. His curve looks good so far, and he’s working on the change-up. Given Will’s already advanced feel for pitching and command, it will be interesting to see if his coaches have him add a fourth pitch - a cutter perhaps? - to keep hitters just a little more uncomfortable when facing him.
Will is the highest ranked rookie league player to make it on this list, and this is because I think his strong-to-great numbers will remain intact as he jumps to Low A, and possibly even High A. However, I do want to attach the disclaimer that there are a lot of guys who make rookie ball look easy only to falter at the higher levels - there are two Halos’ pitching prospects from the 2007 draft that I’m thinking of specifically. Will’s got a tremendous ceiling, but reaching it remains far from a sure thing.
Given Will’s potential for further growth, it’s hard to know what his stuff is going to look like in another 2-3 years. However, I don’t think his K-rate is going to remain above a batter an inning (no matter how much I want it to), so my guess is Will’s ceiling looks like Andy Pettitte’s better seasons, with a strong K/BB rate in the high twos to low threes and an ERA is in the mid to high threes. Joe Saunders is another decent comp, though I think Will’s K-rate - and therefore his ceiling - will remain a touch higher.