Offseason Q&A with Chuck Smith

An undrafted free agent signing out of Berry College, reliever Chuck Smith impressed scouts and teammates alike, including Gaby Hernandez, in his first professional season. Chuck sits down for an offseason Q&A session to talk about his game, what he envisions his role will be with the Mets, which prospects impressed him the most, and much more.

InsidePitchMagazine.com: Tell us a little bit about your collegiate career. Where did you play? Were you a starter or reliever? What were your stats your final year of school?

Chuck Smith: I grew up a starting pitcher and I was a starter all four years of college. I played two years of Junior College and two years at Berry. My freshman year I played at Northwest Shoals JC in Alabama and then transferred over to Snead State JC my sophomore year. I went 11-4 with a 3.00 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 95 innings my senior year at Berry last year. And when I signed a deal with the Mets, it was the first time I was solely used out of the bullpen.

Inside Pitch: So how difficult was the transition from being a starter all your life to now becoming a full-time reliever? Do you think you'll remain a reliever in the Mets' system?

Smith: When I was at the Instructional League last year, I got some work in as a starter, but I think they'll keep me as a reliever and I'll work my way up the ladder in that role. It definitely is a different mentality when you're a reliever. The first two weeks of relieving last year, it was an adjustment period for me, but then it was like I was a reliever all of my life. I am going to do whatever it takes to get me to the Major Leagues and I think I can be a successful reliever.

Inside Pitch: You were an undrafted free-agent signing. Who signed you? Were the Mets the only ones interested in you? And do you think you didn't drafted because you were a four-year player in college?

Smith: Yeah, I think that's what happened. (laughing) I remember I talked to some scout from the Royals and he mentioned to me that I was getting old, even though I was just 22-years old. I mean, Scott Hyde is just a year younger than me and he too came from a small school, but yet he was a 7th round pick. So I'm guessing it had something to do with me being a four-year player in college. I signed with Marlon MacPhail. I played ball with Travis Hope at Berry and we were both hoping to get signed. It is great we both got picked up by the Mets. The Mets signed Troy Fry, who was from our school, the year before. The only other team I had worked out for besides the Mets was the Arizona Diamondbacks. I had a pre-draft workout with them.

Inside Pitch: Did you have a favorite team growing up, or a favorite player?

Smith: I guess I grew up a Braves fan because I was able to watch them on TV a lot. But I also liked the Cubs for the same reason. I was able to watch those two teams a lot more. I didn't really have a favorite player, but I guess I did like John Smoltz back when he was a starter. He is a hard-nosed pitcher that works his butt off to get where he needed to be. I like that in a player.

Inside Pitch: Give us a scouting report on yourself. What kind of pitches do you throw and at what speeds?

Smith: I throw mainly a fastball, curveball, and changeup. I have a 4-seam fastball that's about 90-93 MPH and my 2-seam fastball is 88-90 MPH. My curveball is around 74-76 MPH and my changup is 78-80 MPH. I have a lot of confidence in my changeup. I'll throw it 3-1 or 3-2, it doesn't matter to me. I threw that pitch as often as I would as a starter last year. I figured not many people would expect a changeup from a reliever and it was one of my best pitches all last summer. I threw my curveball more in Brooklyn though. I set up my fastball with my breaking stuff.

Inside Pitch: You pitched very well last year. Do you have any idea of where you'll break Spring Training? Where would you like to begin the 2005 season?

Smith: I am hoping to begin either at Hagerstown or St. Lucie. Wherever I start, my goal is to finish the season one level higher. If I was to be able to start in St. Lucie and finish in Binghamton, that would be great. It was a little tough last year being 22-years old and having to start in rookie ball. I've got to get moving to get where I need to be.

Inside Pitch: Well you said you think the Mets plan on using you as a reliever. Do you have a preference for any type of role in the bullpen? How do you see yourself being used as a reliever?

Smith: I'm thinking they are going to use me more as a middle reliever because I started before and I'm used to pitching more innings. It would be great to be a setup guy or even a closer, but I think my role is set up the rest of the guys in the bullpen, you know, get in two or three innings and hand it off to the rest of the guys. I could see where that's where I would be the most valuable.

Inside Pitch: Despite being in the system for less than a year, you pitched in the Gulf Coast League, at Kingsport, and at Brooklyn last year. You were also a part of the Instructional League last fall, so I feel comfortable asking this question: Who are some of the positional players you believe have the highest ceilings, among the guys you've seen?

Smith: Lastings Milledge definitely has to be at the top of the list. He's definitely a five-tool talent and looks like he can do anything he wants, and for me, he looks as good as it gets. I got to play with Ambiorix Concepcion and he swings the bat pretty good and has the great arm to back him up in the outfield. He's pretty good. I got to see Jamar Hill and Blake Whealy at the Instructional League last year and both of those guys have a lot of pop in their bats.

Inside Pitch: What about your GCL teammates? Which one player from that team do you believe has the highest upside?

Smith: As a pitcher, I'd have to say Jesus Flores. He's so good back there behind the plate. He's in line with his pitchers and calls a really good game. What's impressive about him at the plate is that he's not a pull hitter. He'll drive the ball to right center and you hardly ever see that from a player at such a young age. He's going to be a special player.

Inside Pitch: Okay, same question, but on the pitching side. Which pitchers have you seen that have impressed you the most?

Smith: There were three pitchers that really impressed me. I was really impressed with Evan MacLane from the left side. He was lights out in Brooklyn and he's learning to use his changeup more. He's as solid as they come from the left side. From the right side it has to be Gaby Hernandez. He has the best delivery and some of the best mechanics I've seen from anybody. To be as young as he is, he's just so mature for his age. He has a good work ethic to go along with the natural talent. Among the relievers, Celso Rondon was pretty much lights out in Brooklyn. He comes into the game and knows what he needs to get done. He goes straight after the batters and he's in the game looking to get it over and done with. He's the best pitcher I saw last year, closing-wise.

Inside Pitch: Who would you say is somebody that people may overlook but has a good chance to contribute at the Major League level? Who are the "sleepers"?

Smith: Evan MacLane. I already mentioned him, but I'd have to put him in this group too. He doesn't have the dazzling stuff, but he just gets guys out. I think Rafael Arroyo is a bit of a sleeper too. He's one of those guys that is small in size and you look at him and think he doesn't have a chance. But yet he was one of the top catchers at the Instructional Leagues. He's got good potential to him because he receives the ball well and his work ethic is way up there. I also think Caleb Stewart falls into that category as well.

InsidePitchMagazine.com would like to thank Chuck Smith for taking the time to answer our questions this offseason.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nInsidePitchMagazine.com: Tell us a little bit about your collegiate career. Where did you play? Were you a starter or reliever? What were your stats your final year of school?
\r\n
\r\nChuck Smith: I grew up a starting pitcher and I was a starter all four years of college. I played two years of Junior College and two years at Berry. My freshman year I played at Northwest Shoals JC in Alabama and then transferred over to Snead State JC my sophomore year. I went 11-4 with a 3.00 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 95 innings my senior year at Berry last year. And when I signed a deal with the Mets, it was the first time I was solely used out of the bullpen.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: So how difficult was the transition from being a starter all your life to now becoming a full-time reliever? Do you think you'll remain a reliever in the Mets' system?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: When I was at the Instructional League last year, I got some work in as a starter, but I think they'll keep me as a reliever and I'll work my way up the ladder in that role. It definitely is a different mentality when you're a reliever. The first two weeks of relieving last year, it was an adjustment period for me, but then it was like I was a reliever all of my life. I am going to do whatever it takes to get me to the Major Leagues and I think I can be a successful reliever.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: You were an undrafted free-agent signing. Who signed you? Were the Mets the only ones interested in you? And do you think you didn't drafted because you were a four-year player in college?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: Yeah, I think that's what happened. (laughing) I remember I talked to some scout from the Royals and he mentioned to me that I was getting old, even though I was just 22-years old. I mean, Scott Hyde is just a year younger than me and he too came from a small school, but yet he was a 7th round pick. So I'm guessing it had something to do with me being a four-year player in college. I signed with Marlon MacPhail. I played ball with Travis Hope at Berry and we were both hoping to get signed. It is great we both got picked up by the Mets. The Mets signed Troy Fry, who was from our school, the year before. The only other team I had worked out for besides the Mets was the Arizona Diamondbacks. I had a pre-draft workout with them.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Did you have a favorite team growing up, or a favorite player?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: I guess I grew up a Braves fan because I was able to watch them on TV a lot. But I also liked the Cubs for the same reason. I was able to watch those two teams a lot more. I didn't really have a favorite player, but I guess I did like John Smoltz back when he was a starter. He is a hard-nosed pitcher that works his butt off to get where he needed to be. I like that in a player.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Give us a scouting report on yourself. What kind of pitches do you throw and at what speeds?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: I throw mainly a fastball, curveball, and changeup. I have a 4-seam fastball that's about 90-93 MPH and my 2-seam fastball is 88-90 MPH. My curveball is around 74-76 MPH and my changup is 78-80 MPH. I have a lot of confidence in my changeup. I'll throw it 3-1 or 3-2, it doesn't matter to me. I threw that pitch as often as I would as a starter last year. I figured not many people would expect a changeup from a reliever and it was one of my best pitches all last summer. I threw my curveball more in Brooklyn though. I set up my fastball with my breaking stuff.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: You pitched very well last year. Do you have any idea of where you'll break Spring Training? Where would you like to begin the 2005 season?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: I am hoping to begin either at Hagerstown or St. Lucie. Wherever I start, my goal is to finish the season one level higher. If I was to be able to start in St. Lucie and finish in Binghamton, that would be great. It was a little tough last year being 22-years old and having to start in rookie ball. I've got to get moving to get where I need to be.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Well you said you think the Mets plan on using you as a reliever. Do you have a preference for any type of role in the bullpen? How do you see yourself being used as a reliever?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: I'm thinking they are going to use me more as a middle reliever because I started before and I'm used to pitching more innings. It would be great to be a setup guy or even a closer, but I think my role is set up the rest of the guys in the bullpen, you know, get in two or three innings and hand it off to the rest of the guys. I could see where that's where I would be the most valuable.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Despite being in the system for less than a year, you pitched in the Gulf Coast League, at Kingsport, and at Brooklyn last year. You were also a part of the Instructional League last fall, so I feel comfortable asking this question: Who are some of the positional players you believe have the highest ceilings, among the guys you've seen?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: Lastings Milledge definitely has to be at the top of the list. He's definitely a five-tool talent and looks like he can do anything he wants, and for me, he looks as good as it gets. I got to play with Ambiorix Concepcion and he swings the bat pretty good and has the great arm to back him up in the outfield. He's pretty good. I got to see Jamar Hill and Blake Whealy at the Instructional League last year and both of those guys have a lot of pop in their bats.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: What about your GCL teammates? Which one player from that team do you believe has the highest upside?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: As a pitcher, I'd have to say Jesus Flores. He's so good back there behind the plate. He's in line with his pitchers and calls a really good game. What's impressive about him at the plate is that he's not a pull hitter. He'll drive the ball to right center and you hardly ever see that from a player at such a young age. He's going to be a special player.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Okay, same question, but on the pitching side. Which pitchers have you seen that have impressed you the most?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: There were three pitchers that really impressed me. I was really impressed with Evan MacLane from the left side. He was lights out in Brooklyn and he's learning to use his changeup more. He's as solid as they come from the left side. From the right side it has to be Gaby Hernandez. He has the best delivery and some of the best mechanics I've seen from anybody. To be as young as he is, he's just so mature for his age. He has a good work ethic to go along with the natural talent. Among the relievers, Celso Rondon was pretty much lights out in Brooklyn. He comes into the game and knows what he needs to get done. He goes straight after the batters and he's in the game looking to get it over and done with. He's the best pitcher I saw last year, closing-wise.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Who would you say is somebody that people may overlook but has a good chance to contribute at the Major League level? Who are the \"sleepers\"?
\r\n
\r\nSmith: Evan MacLane. I already mentioned him, but I'd have to put him in this group too. He doesn't have the dazzling stuff, but he just gets guys out. I think Rafael Arroyo is a bit of a sleeper too. He's one of those guys that is small in size and you look at him and think he doesn't have a chance. But yet he was one of the top catchers at the Instructional Leagues. He's got good potential to him because he receives the ball well and his work ethic is way up there. I also think Caleb Stewart falls into that category as well.
\r\n
\r\nInsidePitchMagazine.com would like to thank Chuck Smith for taking the time to answer our questions this offseason.
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