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Player Game Report: Andrew Smith, 3/9/10

Instead of a true game report, I’ll focus in on Andrew Smith, a right-handed pitcher from Roswell High School, making this a player game report.

Smith is a 6’3’’ righty with solid-average stuff that entered the game for Roswell in the fourth inning. His catcher, Zane Evans, a Georgia Tech signee, started the game off with fringy stuff and lack of command. Evans sat 85-87 with his fastball, along with a 70-72 curve and 78 changeup, all below-average in command and in pitch grading. Evans noticeably slowed his arm for the changeup, and I’d say he’s easily just a catching prospect.

After three innings that lasted over an hour and a half, Smith was a breath of fresh air, moving the game along at a better pace. Whereas there were only three scouts there at the beginning of the game, by the fourth inning there were closer to 15, most having come directly from an outing by Woodstock High School pitcher Kent Immanuel, a North Carolina signee like Smith. We all took up our positions behind home plate, ready to take in what Smith had to offer on the evening.

Smith came in with the reputation for being a strike-thrower with above-average command of three pitches, including a solid-average fastball, above-average curveball and promising changeup. Right out of the gate, watching him on the mound, he didn’t strike me as very projectable. While listed at 6’3’’, he looked more like 6’1’’ or 6’2’’, and he’s pretty solid now. I’m not saying he doesn’t have the capability of improving, just that he’s not going to add 5 mph to his fastball over the next few years.

His first fastballs came out of the gate in the 86-88 range, and he ended up sitting there for most of his four inning outing. He was commanding it well to the corners, as well as elevating it when he had the hitter on his heels, changing the eye level of the pitch well. I was supremely impressed with his ability to get weak contact, and he had a fair amount of late life to the pitch, featuring good arm side run and sink. It’s not a sinking fastball by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s lively in that 86-88 mph range, a good sign that he knows what he’s doing when he’s pitching, even without his best stuff. He’s been clocked as high as 93 before, but he didn’t get close to that in this outing, yet he still mowed through the order quickly.

On to his offspeed pitches, let me first tell you that I was not the only one having trouble distinguishing his curveball from his changeup at times. That’s how much movement he gets on his change. There was multiple times where we ended up asking each other which pitch that was, as the velocity readings were right in the middle between his normal curveball range and changeup range, and there always ended up being disagreement between the scouts about which pitch it was. He mixed the pitches liberally, and he’d throw any pitch in any count. His curve was usually in the 73-76 mph range, with the changeup closer to 77-79. However, in the 75-77 mph range, the difference between the pitches is so small that it’s hard to read, even for scouts, much less inexperienced high school hitters.

His curve showed excellent late break and it was a solid 11/5 pitch that I graded as a future above-average offering (55 on the 20-80 scale). It could be rated as high as 60 for someone who believes in his command, which is excellent. He did a great job of busting the curveball in on right-handed hitters, who then bailed out to watch it drop in for a strike. One confused hitter just shook his head after he had backpedaled out of the box during the pitch, thinking he was about to get hit in the face. Smith showed a solid ability to throw it for strikes, as well as bury it in the dirt in pitcher’s counts.

The changeup is greatly improved from last summer, where most scouts saw it as a fringy third offering with only a little potential, mainly because he’d change his arm action and delivery enough that experienced hitters could tell it was coming. However, last night it was a solid offering that I rated as a potential above-average offering, giving it a 55 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. His first changeup was a 79 mph pitch that didn’t have much life on it, and it was popped up and dropped for an error, resulting in an unearned run. However, later pitches showed incredible life once he got the feel for it. He would get ahead of a hitter with his fastball, and then show a steady diet of the curve and change, aiming the curve higher for its break, and then throwing his change toward the knees, and it would drop off the table right in front of the plate. Its tumble was one of the better changeups I’ve seen so far this season, even equal to Deck McGuire. He’d get solid depth and excellent fade when he threw it in the 77 mph range, about ten miles an hour slower than his fastball on the day. Some scouts openly questioned whether he had secretly developed a splitter over the offseason, but scouts more familiar with him said it was simply a straight change that he had improved.

In terms of mechanics, this is the area that Smith needs to work on. He’s rather smooth through the motion until he starts to release the ball. At that point, especially on his fastball, he noticeably decelerates his arm, hindering his ability to follow through, also hindering his ability to push through his fastball, which hurt his velocity. Scouts were a little puzzled about his velocity on the night, as he wasn’t holding anything back in terms of his release, as he has a little effort to his motion, but he was still only registering in the 86-88 mph range, touching 89 once. He also has some recoil on the end of his motion, and all of this combines to form a little question mark about his mechanics. He’ll definitely need a little cleanup at the pro level.

All in all, though, Andrew Smith did very well on the night, considering that his defense had a lot of trouble on pop-ups and flyballs due to the windy conditions. He had two pop-ups dropped when he was on the mound, one getting that unearned run on the board. However, he worked quickly and pitched to contact with his fastball early in the count, resulting in a short outing, allowing only the one unearned run over four innings. I expect his velocity will creep back towards normal as the weather heats up, and I might try to get back to see him later in the season. I’d say that Smith is a solid third or fourth round prospect after seeing him in person, possibly into the second round to a team that values command highly, such as the Twins. Hopefully Smith can increase his velocity back to his normal range, while keeping his command and movement.