Oakland A's Prospect Profile: Greg Smith, P

In mid-December, the Oakland A's sent their top starter, Dan Haren, and a minor league relief prospect, Connor Robertson, to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package of six prospects. OaklandClubhouse.com has been taking a closer look at the six players that the A's acquired. We continue with a profile of left-handed pitcher Greg Smith.


Name: Greg Smith
DOB: 12/22/83
H/W: 6'2''/ 190 LB
B/T: L/L

Background
Smith was originally selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the sixth round of the 2005 draft, after he had a strong collegiate career with Louisiana State University. The lefty won 10 games and posted a 2.60 ERA for the LSU Tigers during his final season in college.

Arizona sent Smith to the rookie-level Pioneer League to begin his professional career. He got off to a strong start as a pro, earning the Pioneer League's Most Valuable Pitcher award for the 2005 season. He went 8-5 that year with a 4.15 ERA and remarkably struck out 100 batters while walking only 18 in 88.2 innings.

Smith topped that performance in 2006, when he conquered the hitter-friendly California League. Pitching for the Lancaster JetHawks, whose home stadium is one of the most offensive-minded parks in the Cal League, Smith went 9-0 with a 1.63 ERA in 13 starts. He struck out 71 and held opposing batters to a .190 average in 88.1 innings for the JetHawks. Smith was named to the Cal League's post-season All-Star team despite pitching only half a season with Lancaster.

Smith was promoted to Double-A Tennessee, where he pitched for most of the second half of the 2006 campaign. Pitching as a 22-year-old against mostly older competition, Smith handled the jump in levels well. He went 5-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 60 innings. In total in 2006, Smith went 14-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 148.1 innings.

The Diamondbacks started Smith back in Double-A to begin the 2007 season. Pitching for new Arizona Double-A affiliate Mobile, Smith had a strong first half of the 2007 season, going 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 12 starts. He had two complete games for Mobile, and he struck out 62 in 69.2 innings.

That performance earned Smith a trip to Triple-A Tucson, where he once again pitched well in a difficult environment for pitchers. In 10 starts for the Sidewinders, Smith went 4-2 with a 3.76 ERA. He had one complete game for Tucson. Combined between Double-A and Triple-A, Smith went 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 122 innings.

This fall, Smith participated in the prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League. He made six starts for the Scottsdale Scorpions, going 2-2 with a 2.61 ERA. He struck out 17 in 20.2 innings.


Scouting Report
Smith, in many ways, is the prototypical finesse left-hander. He relies on excellent command of his secondary pitches to off-set a fastball that sits in the mid- to high-80s, occasionally touching 90 MPH. Smith has an outstanding change-up and a solid, over-hand curveball that has a significant bend. He can control both pitches well and does a good job mixing in his off-speed pitches to make his fastball appear harder. In 2007, Smith dominated left-handed hitters, holding lefties to a .215 BAA. Right-handers hit .298 off of Smith.

Smith is a good athlete and sports an impressive .333 BA and 912 OPS in 38 career minor league at-bats. He fields his position well and, like many lefties, does a good job controlling the running game. Smith has been a starter throughout his minor league career, and he has done a good job working late into games. He has had good health throughout his career.

The A's scouting staff has given Smith high marks for his intangibles. Farhan Zaidi, the A's baseball operations analyst, told OaklandClubhouse.com that A's scouts believe Smith will have better results in the major leagues than his stuff would indicate thanks to Smith's competitive nature and willingness to challenge hitters.

"This is a guy who we believe has the secondary pitches and the command and more than anything else, just the competitiveness and the moxie to be successful. Our scouts have said, to a man, that this is a guy who pitches above his stuff," Zaidi said.

"We view him as better than a back-end of the rotation starter. We think he has the stuff to be more successful than that."

Smith is a flyball pitcher, something that hasn't hurt him too badly in the minor leagues despite pitching in a number of homer-friendly ballparks. He has allowed only 26 homers in 352.2 career minor league innings. Smith doesn't strike out a lot of batters, but his command is good enough that he tends to miss the good part of hitters' bats.

Outlook
Smith will have an opportunity to compete for a spot on the A's major league starting rotation as soon as this spring. He will be in major league camp as a non-roster invitee, and the competition could be fairly wide-open, as the A's could have as many as four spots in the rotation up-for-grabs, depending on the health of a few of the A's established starters.

Smith will be competing against at least four other left-handers for a rotation spot: Dana Eveland (also acquired in the Haren trade), Dallas Braden, Dan Meyer and Lenny DiNardo. Braden and DiNardo are both similar pitchers to Smith in that they rely on changing speeds to get hitters out. Smith will need to separate himself from these pitchers in camp to earn a rotation spot.

Even if Smith doesn't start the 2008 season with Oakland, he figures to have a chance at the major league level at some point during the 2008 season. He doesn't have a lot more to prove at the minor league level. Finesse pitchers are much harder to project at the major league level than pitchers with over-powering fastballs, so it remains to be seen how well Smith will fare against big league hitters. The only way for the A's to find out how good Smith will be is to test him, so it is likely that he will make at least a handful of major league starts in 2008, provided that he is healthy.


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