The Houston Astros traded veteran outfielder Justin Maxwell to the Kansas City Royals today, receiving right-handed pitching prospect Kyle Smith in return. Here is my take on Smith.
Kyle Smith, RHP: Smith was drafted by the Royals in the fourth round in 2011, from high school in Lantana, Florida. He had a University of Florida scholarship and it cost $695,000 to buy him away from college. He made his pro debut in 2012, starting one game for Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League (fanning 11 in five shutout innings), then moved up to Kane County in the Low-A Midwest League, where he posted a 2.94 ERA with an 87/20 K/BB in 67 innings. He's remained very effective in 2013, with a 2.85 ERA in 19 starts for High-A Wilmington, with a 96/29 K/BB in 104 innings.
Overall, in 177 pro innings he has a 2.85 ERA with a 194/50 K/BB and 158 hits allowed. There's been some talk that his numbers this year were because of the pro-pitching environment in Wilmington, but he's actually been slightly more effective on the road this year than at home.
Smith is a 6-0, 170 pound right-hander born September 10, 1992. Scouting reports peg his fastball at 88-91 MPH, though he's been clocked as high as 93 on his best days (I saw one of those last year). He has a good curveball and changeup, his pitchability is very advanced, and so far he has performed very well against older competition.
My initial take on this was that the Astros got a great return for Maxwell, but I like Smith more than most analysts do. I've seen him called a Grade C prospect by other reputable sources, and that's apparently the same way that the Royals viewed him. You don't swap a top pitching prospect for a 29-year-old outfielder with a career .222 average and a history of injury.
It is also true that pitchers with Smith's profile often fail to carry forward at the highest levels, so from the Royals point-of-view, they were trading a fungible middling prospect for a guy who can help in the outfield next year. To top it off, I actually like Justin Maxwell and it wouldn't surprise me to see him be a (really) late bloomer. However, it would seem to me that a guy like Maxwell should be acquirable without having to give up a prospect like Smith,who has performed well at a young age.
All that said, sometimes you have a gut feeling about a guy, and Smith is one of those for me. It isn't just a matter of good numbers; I think people are under-selling his pitchability and I think his fastball is sneaky-fast. I think he's a Grade B prospect and has got a decent chance to continue pitching well as a strike-throwing inning-eater. Maxwell wasn't going to be part of Houston's next good team, but Smith might be.
The Universe makes fools of us all, of course. We won't know who was right or wrong about this for another two or three years.