Name: Paul Smyth
Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 200
How Acquired: 35th-round pick in 2009
There are some prospects who get a clear path to the big leagues. And there are others that have to force their way there. Paul Smyth is among that latter group. He will likely always be underappreciated, but if he continues to pitch like he has the past two seasons, he will eventually have to get his shot in the big leagues.
Smyth came to professional baseball with a low profile. A senior pick out of Kansas in the 35th round in 2009, Smyth had underwhelming numbers at KU. However, the A’s took a flier on the Northern California native, who used a sidearm delivery to induce a high number of groundballs.
Smyth hit the ground running early in his professional career. He was dubbed “Mr. Perfect” during his pro debut season, as he didn’t allow a run in 36.1 innings of work for short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County. Smyth struck-out 44 and walked just four while allowing only 14 hits and posting a 1.48 GO/AO.
The A’s sent Smyth to High-A Stockton in 2010 and he immediately jumped into the Ports’ closer role. Although his numbers weren’t quite as staggering with the Ports, Smyth still impressed. He posted a 3.01 ERA and saved 28 games in a hitter’s league. Smyth struck-out 94 in 77.2 innings and continued to get a copious amount of groundballs. He allowed just four homeruns and had a 1.15 WHIP.
Smyth’s pro career hit its first speedbump in 2011 with Double-A Midland. When he reached Double-A, Smyth began to nibble more than he had in his previous seasons. For the next two years, he posted okay – but not great – numbers with the RockHounds. In 2011, Smyth’s ERA was 4.85 and he had a 59:29 K:BB in 65 innings. The next season, Smyth’s ERA dropped to 4.02, but his GO/AO dropped considerably and his K:BB was 53:24.
Things turned around for Smyth in a big way in 2013. He regained the aggressiveness he showed during his first two pro seasons and the results were very positive. Smyth dominated in an early season stint with Midland, allowing just seven earned runs in 23 innings (2.74 ERA). He posted a 24:4 K:BB and his WHIP fell to 0.78. That earned Smyth his first promotion to Triple-A. Once at Triple-A, Smyth continued to pitch well. In 36.2 innings, he had a 2.45 ERA. His K:BB slid to 31:16, but he allowed just two homeruns.
That off-season, Smyth pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League, and he put together an impressive stint with the Bravos de Margrita. In 17 appearances, Smyth had a 2.95 ERA in 18.1 innings. His K:BB was 15:5 and he had a 1.04 WHIP. Smyth parlayed that performance into an invitation to the A’s spring minor league mini-camp. He appeared in three big league spring training games for the A’s in 2014, allowing a run on one hit (a homer) in three innings. He struck-out one and didn’t walk a batter.
In 2014, Smyth put together arguably his best season since 2010. Pitching the entire year in Triple-A, Smyth had a 3.05 ERA in 59 innings. He struck-out 56, walked just 14 and held opposing batters to a .202 average. The only blip on the radar for Smyth was an increase in flyballs allowed, which led to an increase in homeruns allowed.
Smyth uses a three-quarters delivery to hide his pitches and get extra movement on his 89-92 MPH fastball, his excellent slider and occasional change-up. When he is on his game, Smyth is aggressive in the strike-zone, rarely wasting pitches. He was able to pitch to batters on both sides of the plate in 2014, a rarity for sidearm pitchers. Lefties hit just .186 against him last season, while righties hit .213. A’s Triple-A manager Steve Scarsone was able to use Smyth in a variety of roles last year: as a long reliever, set-up man and even occasionally at the end of games.
Over the past few years, Smyth has become more of a flyball pitcher than a groundball pitcher, which is surprising for a pitcher with his release point. However, his line-drive rate has also been lower than league average the past two years, suggesting that hitters have a difficult time squaring up Smyth’s pitches, even if they can get them in the air. Because of his low walk rate, Smyth’s homeruns allowed didn’t hurt him as much as they could have.
The A’s are remaking their roster this off-season and could trade some of their veteran bullpen depth. Smyth is a long shot to start the season in the big leagues, but he could position himself for a mid-season call-up if he gets off to another fast start for Triple-A Nashville. Smyth will be 28 next season.