Name: Chad Smith
H/W: 6’3’’, 215
On Thursday, the Oakland A’s claimed reliever Chad Smith off of waivers from the Detroit Tigers. Smith takes Taylor Thompson’s place on the A’s 40-man roster. Thompson, another right-handed reliever, was moved to the 60-day disabled list. He has been dealing with right shoulder soreness since the start of spring training.
Smith joins the A’s after being designated for assignment earlier this week by the Tigers. Smith has spent his entire career with Detroit up until this point. The Southern California native was a 17th-round pick of the Tigers in 2011 out of USC. Smith was recovering from Tommy John surgery at the time of the draft, but Detroit liked him enough pre-surgery to select him.
Because of the rehab from the surgery, Smith didn’t make his professional debut until midway through the 2012 season. He appeared in 14 regular season games that season – eight of them starts. In 45.2 innings split between the rookie GCL, the short-season New York-Penn League and the Low-A Midwest League, Smith had a 2.76 ERA and a 48:14 K:BB.
In 2013, the Tigers gave Smith a full season in the Midwest League. This time pitching almost exclusively in relief (two starts, 41 relief appearances), Smith posted a 2.13 ERA and a 73:22 K:BB in 72 innings. He allowed just three homeruns. Going into the 2014 season, Smith was named the Tigers’ 37th-best prospect by Scout.com sister site, TigsTown.com (read full profile here).
The 2014 season was a breakthrough campaign for Smith. He skipped High-A entirely and started the season with Double-A Erie. In mid-June, Smith was called up from Double-A directly to the big leagues. He would spend a month with the Tigers, making 10 appearances out of the Detroit bullpen. Smith allowed four runs over his first two big league appearances, which spanned two innings. After that, he seemed to settle in. He allowed only one run on nine hits and two walks in 9.2 innings. Smith struck-out seven over those final eight appearances.
Despite pitching better, Smith was sent back to the minors in mid-July. This time he was assigned to Triple-A Toledo. Smith struggled some with the MudHuds, although his ERA was a bit unlucky based on his peripheral numbers. In 27 innings, he posted a 5.00 ERA. He allowed 38 hits, but walked just five and struck-out 22. His GO/AO was 1.84 and he gave up just two homeruns. Smith’s FIP was 3.09, although he did give up a lot of line-drives (25%), suggesting that the hits weren’t all bad luck.
Smith returned to Double-A for the final two weeks of the season. He didn’t allow a run in his return to Erie and finished his Double-A stint with a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings. He struck-out 18 and walked 6 and had a 2.90 GO/AO.
Going into the 2014 season, Smith was a two-pitch pitcher (fastball and slider), according to Mark Anderson at TigsTown.com. Smith added a cutter in 2014, although he was still predominantly a fastball-slider pitcher.
Before his surgery, Smith’s fastball was clocked in the mid-90s. He was mostly at 91-93 MPH during his first two years with the Tigers, but his velocity got back to pre-surgery levels in 2014. He averaged 93.4 MPH on his four-seam fastball during his MLB stint and was clocked as high as 97.
Smith’s fastball gets natural downward movement and he has done well pitching in the lower parts of the strike-zone. He has allowed just seven homeruns in 164.2 minor league innings. Smith’s command can be spotty at times, and when he missed location, he tends to miss out over the plate. That hasn’t resulted in homeruns, but it has led to a lot of well-struck balls that have been hits at the upper-levels.
Smith’s slider is a good secondary offering that helps him to keep hitters off of his fastball. It moves from one side of the plate to the other and generally sits in the 84-86 MPH range. The cutter also sits in that mid-80s range (more 85-87) and is a decent option for Smith versus left-handers.
According to Anderson, Smith re-worked his throwing motion after his surgery to create a cleaner, more easily repeatable motion. He throws at more of a ¾ angle than over-the-top. Smith has a solid build and is a good athlete. He has been durable since returning from the surgery.
TigsTown.com Executive Editor Paul Wezner says the Tigers would have liked to keep Smith, but he was lost in a numbers game when Detroit added several veteran bullpen arms this off-season in an attempt to improve their relief corps. Wezner says Smith was probably rushed to the big leagues last year, but that Smith has a chance to be a solid seventh-inning reliever in the bigs.
"He can miss some bats with the slider, but will likely need to keep his fastball down in the zone (and not over-throw it to keep his sink action)," Wezner says.
Given the A’s bullpen depth – especially in the area of right-handed relievers – Smith is likely in A’s camp more to make an impression than compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster. However, injuries could create an opening for Smith. His fastball makes him an intriguing candidate for future big league roles, and he has option years remaining. Smith will be 25 throughout the 2015 regular season.