Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Greg Smith, SP

Greg Smith was one of the talented young arms that the Oakland A's received from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Dan Haren in late December. OaklandClubhouse.com recently caught-up with the left-hander, who spoke with us about getting over the shock of being traded, his experience at the Rookie Career Development Program, how he sees himself as a pitcher, his hitting ability and more…

Greg Smith is less than three years removed from his collegiate days at Louisiana State University, but he is already on the verge of making the major leagues. Despite not possessing an overpowering fastball, Smith has put up gaudy numbers since turning pro. In 352.2 minor league innings, Smith has a career 3.27 ERA and a roughly 3:1 K:BB ratio despite pitching most of the time in hitter's leagues.

He first turned heads during his inaugural full pro season in 2006, when he won 14 games between High-A and Double-A and starred for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Panama. Then in 2007, Smith won nine games between Double-A and Triple-A and posted a 3.54 ERA in 122 innings. He followed up that strong performance by posting a 2.61 ERA in 20.2 innings during the Arizona Fall League this off-season.

After being dealt to Oakland as part of the Dan Haren trade, Smith was invited to the A's big league camp, where he will compete for a spot in Oakland's 2008 rotation. Smith was also sent to Major League Baseball's Rookie Career Development Program in the Washington, D.C. area in January, where he learned about what to expect during his first year in the bigs with many other promising prospects on the verge of making their major-league debuts.

On Monday, we spoke to Smith, who had just recently arrived in the Phoenix area to prepare for his first Spring Training with the Oakland A's.

OaklandClubhouse: What was your reaction to the trade? Were you surprised or had you heard rumors that you might be dealt?

Greg Smith: It really took me by surprise, actually. When I was in the [Arizona] Fall League, my agent told me maybe about a week into it that there was a possibility [of a trade], but not to put any weight into it and don't think twice about it. I said okay and then I went home [after the league ended] and about two or three weeks after I got home, I got a call. I was really kind of shocked because I had totally forgotten about [the trade rumor].

OC: When you heard the rumor, had you heard that the A's were interested in you? Did you see their scouts during the Fall League, or was the A's interest a surprise, as well?

GS: It was total surprise. The only time I had really heard about it was when my agent had mentioned that little bit. And he didn't say that someone was interested or that something would happen with Oakland. He just said, ‘don't be surprised' and then about a month later, it surprised me. [laughs]

OC: You are coming off of two strong seasons with Arizona where you had moved up the system pretty quickly. Is it hard to leave the Diamondbacks after moving up so far in their system?

GS: It really is. I thought it was going to be hard, and it definitely is. I went over there today [to the A's facilities] for my first workout just to get used to everything and it is just something that I am going to have to really get used to. Hopefully, it will come with time, but it's almost like I want to call those guys that I played with with the Diamondbacks and say, ‘can I come back for a day for one last time?' [laughs]

It really is an adjustment. I'm just waiting for it to sink in and to get used to everything over here.

OC: Have you had a lot of contact with the other players who came over with you from Arizona in the trade?

GS: I've talked to Brett Anderson a couple of times, once or twice, just talking about how this was going to be weird and this and that. I'm actually rooming this spring with Aaron Cunningham. He got traded [to Arizona] from the White Sox and so he's kind of told me what it is like to be traded.

We are living together out here and we played together in the Fall League, so there is a little familiarity right there. He's kind of helping me. He ended up being here for about a month before I got here, so he has been up to the facilities a couple of times and is kind of introducing me to everybody. In that sense, it is a little bit easier to have somebody who has been here a little bit to help me get used to it. By the same token, he's getting used to this, too, so we are sort of going through this together.

OC: You were one of the A's representatives at the MLB Rookie Career Development Program in the Washington, D.C. area a few weeks ago, right?

GS: Right.

OC: What was that experience like?

GS: That was pretty cool. I really didn't have any expectations going into it. I was just thinking, okay, I am going to this thing in Virginia and I don't really know anything about it. But when I got there, the first day we went to the White House and then to the Capitol and it was pretty cool. We got to take a few pictures and meet a few guys. Some of the guys I had already played with, so I got to catch-up with them.

Then we went to the seminar, where they tell you, ‘this is what to expect [in the major leagues], this is what you do, this is what you don't do.' They were just giving you pointers and advice on what to expect and what not to expect.

OC: Was there anything that you took out of those meetings that you didn't know already or that was unexpected?

GS: It's all stuff they tell you, but you don't really think it is going to hit home. You think that ‘I'm invincible, this isn't ever going to happen to me.' Then they come out with stories about a guy, who you kind of know or know about, who does something and it comes back to bite him. Stuff like that. It hits home that that kind of stuff really can happen, and you have to be prepared for it.

OC: What was the AFL experience like?

GS: That was fun. Playing with all of the guys that you have played against and getting to know them, it's really cool. It's kind of weird to explain. It's almost like an All-Star League. We each get to wear our own [MLB] team's jerseys, while we are wearing the same [AFL team] hat. There were a bunch of good guys and good competition. It was great to be out here in Arizona and in a good city. Everything about it was great. It was just really fun.

OC: Was that your first extended time in the Phoenix area?

GS: Yeah. The Diamondbacks' Spring Training was in Tucson. I think my first Spring Training, I came up to Phoenix maybe once. Last year, I had to stay in extended spring training for about a month, so I came up to Phoenix to watch a few games while I was there. Then getting to the Fall League, I was able to get used to the Phoenix area. Phoenix is extremely nice. It's a little bit better than Tucson where I was used to. It's an extremely nice place.

OC: Is this going to be your first big league camp?

GS: Second. I was in camp with the Diamondbacks last year.

OC: What are you expecting going into major league camp and pitching with the big league staff and in front of the big league coaching staff?

GS: I don't know. [laughs] Last year was all about getting my feet wet and getting used to the guys and getting used to the coaches. Then the trade happened, so it is kind of like I have to redo all of that and get used to new faces and everything. Really, to be honest with you, I have no expectations going into camp. I'm just going to go out there and pitch and feel my way through it and see what happens.

OC: You got to spend a good amount of time in the PCL last year. What was that experience like? I know it is a big hitter's league but you put up some pretty good numbers.

GS: I actually played in the California League before, which is a pretty good hitter's league with big wind and everything. It didn't really bother me that much then and I seemed to deal with it okay. Coming into the PCL, you hear all of these horror stories about ‘this guy hit this ball here' and ‘it's not a pitcher's park and everywhere you go is a hitter's park,' stuff like that. So it's kind of like, okay, everywhere you go is a hitter's park and there is nothing that you can do about that. You have to be like, ‘if a guy hits the ball out of the park, he hits it out of the park.' You have to be able to roll with the punches.

It took some getting used to. There are definitely better hitters in the PCL and there is better competition, but you still have to go out there and perform. You still have to go out there and do what you have to do. In that sense, nothing is really different.

OC: If you were going to describe to someone what kind of pitcher you are, what would you say? Do you have any pitchers that you model yourself after?

GS: I never had a favorite player or a guy that I emulated or anything like that. It was always analysts and critics who told me, ‘you are like a Tom Glavine or a like a left-handed Greg Maddux' or something like that, so I was like, ‘okay, I guess so then.' But I never put myself up against somebody or compared myself to somebody else. It was just the way that I did something that I focused on, rather than focusing on someone else.

I'm not going to overpower you. I try not to. If I do, that is really not my style. I'm more of a ‘hit a location' or ‘keep the ball down' kind of guy. I'm not going to overpower you, not going to throw 98 or anything. I'm just going to try to get an out.

OC: What pitches are you throwing at this point?

GS: Fastball – two-seam and four-seam – a cutter, a curveball and a change-up.

OC: Is there one that you go to as your out-pitch?

GS: Well, not to give away my strategy or anything. [laughs] But to be honest with you, on any given day, if I feel more comfortable with any given pitch then I'll go with that. If my curveball isn't working that day, then I have a change-up that I am really confident in or a cutter that I am really confident in. So if one of my pitches isn't working that day, I'll just go to another one.

OC: I noticed that you are a pretty good hitter. [Smith has a .333 average and a 913 OPS in 36 career minor league at-bats.] Is that something you are going to miss doing now that you are in the American League?

GS: Oh, definitely, definitely. That was the first thing that came into my mind when I got the call that I got traded. I was like, ‘man, you've got to be kidding me that I am not going to be able to hit anymore.' [laughs] I just left the clubhouse of the Triple-A club of a National League team in the Diamondbacks and I raided the bat rack, so I have all of these wooden bats that I am not going to be able to do anything with. [laughs]

I had a couple of pinch-hits when I was in Triple-A. And that, to me, was really what reminded me of what it was like to be a position player in high school and my first semester in college when I almost had a chance to play first base. It was so much fun to be an actual baseball player again and not be looked at like, ‘oh, he's a pitcher, he's a non-athlete.' [laughs]

It was so much fun. It took me awhile after the game after my first pinch-hit to settle down because it was so exciting and I had that adrenaline going again just like I was back on the field just playing the game, you know? That was exciting. I am definitely going to miss that part of the game.

OC: Did you pitch at all with Micah Owings while you were with the Diamondbacks' chain?

GS: We were never on the same team, but we actually played summer ball together in 2004 in the Cape. We were on the same team back then and then we played against each other in college when he was at Tulane and I was at LSU. So we knew each other from then and then we got drafted together. We were never actually on the same team, but we knew each other and then in big league camp and everything, we talked to each other and called each other a couple of times throughout the year just to check on each other. I like Micah. Micah is a good guy and he deserves everything that he is getting right now.

OC: Do you think you are the better hitter or is he?

GS: [laughs] He's probably a better hitter than I am just because he did it all through his college career and I had to take a few years off because we had a couple of better hitters than I was in college. So he's definitely a better hitter than I am. I have to give him that. [laughs]

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