Along Highway 101 in California between King City and San Luis Obispo is Atascadero, a town known for being equidistant to San Francisco and Los Angeles. That gave little leaguer Paul Smyth lots of baseball teams to choose from when deciding on his favorite. His parents wound up taking him to more Oakland A's games than any other major league squad, helping him make his decision.
A decade later, with thousands of pitches under his belt, Smyth found himself drafted by the A's in the 35th round in 2009. Four years later, he gets to have his family in the stands again after getting promoted to Triple-A Sacramento on Monday.
"To get picked up by a California team, growing up here, you're real bright-eyed hoping that some day you'll make it to the big leagues," Smyth said.
The right-handed reliever made a solid impression in his first full season with High-A Stockton - where his parents went and first saw him pitch professionally – by allowing just 68 hits in 77.2 innings and striking out 94 hitters.
Without great velocity, Smyth has been forced to work on location and movement. For the past two-plus years, he worked on his craft with Double-A Midland. He got off to a great start this year, allowing just 18 base runners in 23 innings before getting promoted. In his first appearance with the River Cats on Monday, he threw two scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
"He looked much more confidant and seemed like he had plenty of velocity for him," Sacramento manager Steve Scarsone, who managed Smyth in both Stockton and Midland, said. "The movement was good."
Scarsone mentioned Smyth wasn't as effective in 2012 as he was in previous years for unknown reasons, but pointed out he looked like a different pitcher in his first-ever appearance in Triple-A.
Smyth said he spent much of his effort with the RockHounds trying to refine and smooth out his delivery, focusing on cutting down his time to the plate."A big thing that they were trying to hammer home in spring training was to have a quick time to the plate," he said. "At the major league level, they didn't want guys coming up that couldn't be 1.35 or less – giving your catcher a chance to throw people out and control the running game, so I think just kind of in trying to speed up my delivery a little bit.
"I've tried to be pretty diligent about throughout my career. This year, I think the ball's coming out a little smoother. I'm just thankful that it's working out well."
Smyth throws a two-seam fastball, slider and changeup from a low three-quarters angle. In 181 minor league appearances, Smyth has a career 3.26 ERA and a 9.2 K/9. His Double-A BB/9 was 3.3, but he lowered that to 1.6 with the RockHounds this season. If he can continue to locate well with the River Cats, Smyth may be in for another promotion at some point this season.