Drew Smyly will come to camp as a non-roster invitee, with an outside shot of making the Tigers starting rotation out of spring training. It’s more likely that the 22-year-old southpaw will begin the season in Triple-A Toledo, but even if he does, he’s clearly on the fast track to the big leagues.
Drafted in the second round in 2010, Smyly started his professional career last season, and he did so with a bang. Splitting the year between high-A Lakeland [14 starts] and Double-A Erie [7 starts] he went a combined 11-6, 2.07, logging K/9 rates of 8.6 and 10.4 in his respective stops. Following the regular season, he threw 17 scoreless innings for Team USA.
Smyly talked about his path to pro ball, and how he gets hitters out, late in the 2011 season.
David Laurila: You were drafted out of the University of Arkansas. Did you have many opportunities coming out of high school?
Drew Smyly: I got maybe a couple of little looks, but I was lucky to even get a scholarship at Arkansas. I mostly had offers from little schools. I was a late bloomer, so I hadn’t really matured yet. I was also hurt during the first half of my senior year of high school, so I didn’t get much playing time.
I went to a camp the university invited me to, did really well, and they offered me a scholarship. Being from Arkansas, it’s where I had always wanted to go, so everything worked out.
DL: What was the injury?
DS: It was a small stress fracture in my elbow. It healed fine, but then it actually broke more in my freshman year at Arkansas. It cracked and I had to have surgery, so I ended up red-shirting my first year.
The injury was definitely a setback, but at the same time it was a blessing in disguise. I was just a freshman and weighed somewhere between 150 and 160 pounds at the time. It gave me a chance to just focus on weights and getting stronger, and bigger, and when I came back as a red-shirt freshman, I was 20 years old and in better shape. I played my next two years, then got drafted, in 2010, by the Tigers.
DL: Being sophomore-eligible, you had a lot of leverage and were able to command a generous [$1.1 million] signing bonus.
DS: Yes. A lot of teams knew that I was focused on staying at Arkansas, and that it would take more than the usual [bonus] for me to leave to play pro ball. I’m certainly happy that the Tigers drafted me.
I had talked to the Tigers a little bit, going into the draft, but not nearly as much as some other teams. When I saw my name come up in the second round I was actually kind of shocked. I was also really excited.
The Royals and Dodgers were two teams that called me. They both called on draft day, saying that they might take me here, or that they might take me there. As it turned out, the Tigers picked me up before anyone else had a chance to.
DL: You signed at the August deadline and subsequently didn’t make your professional debut until this season. Were there any drawbacks to that?
DS: Not really, because I don’t think I’d have thrown much, because I threw over 100 innings at Arkansas. Our season lasted until the end of June and then I took a month off. After I signed, I pitched in instructional league, so I don’t think it really effected me.
DL: What was your development plan coming into this season?
DS: I think they just want to make sure I’m feeling good and staying healthy. They’ve worked with me on a few little things, mechanics-wise, but mostly it’s making sure my body is staying healthy and withstanding a pro season. Other than that, it’s mostly been just learning the game — learning how to study hitters and control the game. Just maturing all the way around, I guess.
DL: What do you look like mechanically?
DS: I think I’m pretty sound, mechanically. You can always continue to get better and change things around, but I think the Tigers feel I have pretty good mechanics.
My arm slot does sometimes gets a little over the top, which they’ve worked with me on. They’d rather I’d stay out here more [high three quarters] and sometimes, especially when I get tired, I’ll lean back and get too far over the top.
DL: What is your repertoire?
DS: Fastball, curveball, cut fastball, and changeup. In college, I was fastball, curveball, changeup, until my last year. Then I got a blister on my finger. Something happened and I couldn’t really grip it like I’ve always gripped it, so I had to change things around in the middle of the season. I started throwing a cut fastball and it turned into my number-one pitches. I started throwing it all the time and it became my go-to pitch. I love to throw it. I can throw it in any count and it works for me.
I also add and subtract on all of my pitches. Sometimes it will be sharper, sometimes it will be harder, faster, softer.
DL: Where are you velocity-wise?
DS: My fastball, depending on the day, can be anywhere from 87 to 94. Some pitches might be 88-89, and in other innings they might be 92-93. Every now and again, I’ll hit 95.
My curveball… I’ll throw kind of a get-me-over curveball, looking for a strike, which could be 75-76. When I’m trying to get a strikeout, it could be closer to 80-81.
My cutter is 83 to 86, somewhere in that range. I’ll vary it depending on the count. Sometimes I might just kind of sneak it in there, and sometimes I might try to spin it more, making it look more like a slider. It depends on who is hitting and whatnot. That’s another part of the game. You do what you can to get outs.
DL: Do you see yourself as more of a finesse pitcher or more of a power pitcher?
DS: I’ve heard a lot of people call me a finesse pitcher, and I like that. That’s one of my main strengths, throwing four different pitches at four different speeds, at any time in the count, for strikes. I take pride in filling up the zone.
At the same time, when you say finesse pitcher, you make it sound like you don’t throw hard, or whatnot. If I want to, I can get it up there. And I do, every game. So, I don’t know what you’d call me. I guess I just like to pitch.
A scout for a rival team gave his assessment of Smyly:
“He has a very good feel to pitch. He doesn’t have great command, but he has good control in and around the zone. Fair delivery with a slight pause in the back of [his] arm action, causing him to miss spots, but he’s still around the zone a lot.
“Fastball is 87-92, averaging 90, with average movement. His slider has a chance to be average, He has a split with changeup action, which is still a work in progress. He needs to use it more.
“Solid cutter that he throws 83-85. He does a good job tying up right-handed hitters with it. It’s a good pitch, but he ends up relying on it too much at times. Overall, he has good feel for mix. I see him his upside as a number-five starter.”
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