A year ago, Kyle Smith was pitching in the Kansas City Royals system, performing very effectively for High-A Wilmington (2.85 ERA, 96/29 K/BB in 104 innings) but on the verge of being traded to the Houston Astros for outfielder Justin Maxwell. Maxwell hasn't done much for the Royals this year, but Smith has been performing well in the Houston system and was recently named to the Texas League All-Star Game.
Unfortunately Smith gave up a game-winning two-run homer to Springfield's Cody Stanley in that All-Star Game earlier this week, but overall 2014 has been a fine season for the right-hander.
Smith opened at High-A Lancaster in Houston's tandem pitching system, making three starts and four relief appearances for a total of 27.2 innings, resulting in a 31/12 K/BB, 18 hits and a 2.60 ERA, highly credible numbers given the difficult pitching environment in the California League. Promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi in early May, he's posted a 3.78 ERA in eight starts and one relief outing, with a sharp 52/10 K/BB in 48 innings, allowing 45 hits.
A fourth round pick by the Royals in 2011 from high school in Lantana, Florida, Smith is short for a right-hander at 5-11. He has some athleticism though and was clocked as high as 94-95 MPH a couple of years ago. I've seen him as high as 93. He's since settled in around 88-91 but commands it well. He has a solid curveball and changeup and his pitching instincts have never been questioned.
The transition to Double-A is a critical one and Smith is adapting well. As I wrote in my book this year:
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 right away. 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 solid 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 for another two or three years. Grade B-.
It is still too early to know, but thus far Smith is doing what he needs to do.