San Diego Padres pitching prospect Burch Smith made his major league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays this past weekend. It did not go well. After a strong first inning, he got knocked around without getting an out in the second frame, pitching a total of just one inning, giving up five hits, two walks, and six runs. Starting your major league career with a 54.00 ERA is no fun, but Smith has plenty of talent and more chances will come. Let's take a look at him as today's Prospect of the Day.
Burch Smith was twice drafted out of Howard Junior College in Texas by the Cleveland Indians, the Tribe drafting him in the 49th round in 2009 then the 20th round in 2010. Smith didn't sign and transferred to the University of Oklahoma, where a solid season (3.90 ERA, 10-4, 90/32 K/BB in 88 innings) made him a 14th round pick in 2011.
He was considered a fourth or fifth round talent by local scouts but fell for unclear reasons to the 14th. Sometimes talented players get lost in the shuffle, and Smith's draft status might have been hurt somewhat since he wasn't Dylan Bundy or Archie Bradley, the Oklahoma preps who dominated crosschecker attention that spring. Smith got an overslot $250,000 bonus to sign.
Sent to High-A Lake Elsinore for 2012, Smith responded with a 3.85 ERA and a 137/27 K/BB in 129 innings, allowing 127 hits. For most of last season, reports from the Cal League rated his fastball at 89-94 MPH, although there were late reports of velocity spikes as high as 95-97 MPH. The fastball showed good movement as well as velocity, and reports indicated that his curveball and changeup were at least solid. His FIP was much better than his ERA at 2.97.
Based on the scouting reports, the stats, and the good impression I got from seeing him pitch in college, I rated him as a Grade C+ entering 2013, noting him as a "Sleeper Alert" prospect in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book and mentioned him as a possible breakout on the Top 20 Padres Prospects list. Smith was excellent in his first six starts for Double-A San Antonio this spring, posting a 1.15 ERA with a 37/6 K/BB in 31.1 innings, allowing just 17 hits.
Featuring a classic pitcher's build at 6-4, 215 pounds, Smith was born April 12, 1990. He worked at 89-93 MPH during his college and early pro career, but has gotten that into the mid-90s over the last 10 months or so. The heater isn't straight, and despite his low walk totals throughout his professional career, the fastball has so much action that he can't always command it perfectly. His secondary pitches have progressed and at his best he shows three quality major league pitches with the heater, the curveball, and the change-up. He would telegraph the change in college but he's made a lot of progress in that department.
The Padres pushed Smith to the majors with just six Double-A starts on his resume and no Triple-A experience at all. Rough patches should be expected, but I think he has a reasonable chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter in the long run, assuming all the usual caveats about staying healthy.