The Cincinnati Reds have promoted minor league right-hander Josh Smith to the major league roster. He will make his major league debut tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates, subbing for Johnny Cueto who will be given a few extra days of rest due to a sore elbow.
Who is Josh Smith? Well let's find out.
Smith was drafted in the 21st round in 2010 from Lipscomb University. He was immediately successful in the low minors (14-7, 2.97 ERA, 166/33 K/BB in 144 innings in Low-A) and has remained so at every level. In 2013 he posted a 3.26 ERA with a 139/50 K/BB in 160 innings in Double-A. For Triple-A Louisville in 2014 his ERA spiked to 4.70, but he went 10-7 in 24 starts with a 123/66 K/BB in 156 innings; the ERA was a bit misleading and his FIP was better at 3.84. In 2015 he's posted a 3.04 ERA with a 60/13 K/BB in 74 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
Despite a persistent level of decent success in the minors, Smith is seldom mentioned as a prospect outside of Reds fan circles. He was not mentioned in either the 2013 or 2014 or 2015 versions of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, not even in the "others" section. He was passed up mulitiple times in the Rule 5 draft.
This is all understandable: Smith doesn't throw hard at all, working with an 86-89 MPH fastball. Despite the lack of velocity, his strikeout rates have been adequate because Smith keeps hitters off-stride with a curve, slider, and changeup, and he's deceptive enough that everything plays up. He is durable and has averaged 152 innings per season for the last four years without ill effect.
Despite the positives, the lack of fastball velocity has hindered his prospect status. Smith also has the additional handicap of a boring name: one of my pet theories is that players with boring names are sometimes subconsciously slightly downgraded by evaluators. It may sound silly, but I think it is true sometimes.
Key factors to watch as Smith makes his debut: how well does he locate the fastball? Does it look faster to the naked eye than the radar gun indicates? How well does he mix in the breaking stuff?