Q&A: Wright State head coach Rob Cooper

A side-arming reliever from Wright State (Ohio) University, Joe Smith was selected by the New York Mets in the third round (94th overall) of Tuesday's draft. An instrumental part of the Raiders' push into the NCAA Tournament, Smith was 3-1 with a 0.98 ERA in 1 appearances, striking out 63 and giving up just five extra base hits in 55 innings.

Coach Rob Cooper, who watched Smith develop during his final two seasons with the Raiders, was there at Wright State as Smith scrapped his over-the-top, 85 MPH fastball and found new velocity, movement and success with his delivery from down under.

Cooper believes Smith, at this point, is better than former Miami teammate Danny Graves was at age 22. He joined Inside Pitch's Bryan Hoch for a Draft Day Q&A:

What are your general thoughts on seeing Smith selected by the Mets today?

I'm just excited. For him to be one of the first 100 players taken, I think he deserves it. I think the Mets made an outstanding pick. I've been fortunate to be around some guys who have been very successful – I played with and coached Danny Graves at Miami, and this guy is better. His makeup is outstanding, and depending on what's going on in the Mets organization, it wouldn't surprise me if he was able to make great strides in it. He deserves it and (the Mets) got a heck of a player.

What makes you believe that Smith is better than Graves was at this point in their careers?

To be honest with you, I never thought I'd say that. When Danny was in college, I thought that was as good as I'd seen at that point, with his makeup and breaking ball and just the way he competed. Joe is every bit as good, if not better.

What's the general sense on the bench when Joe comes into a game?

We always felt like if Joe was in the game, we had a chance to win, or if we had a lead, we were going to win. He just loves to compete.

I'll give you an example: we're playing Notre Dame, and it's pretty cold, man – it's like in the thirties or high twenties. I look down and it's the seventh inning, and we're up by two. I told my pitching coach, 'Gosh, I don't know about using him for three innings. It's just so cold.' We kind of looked down to the bullpen and told him to sit down. He was pissed, but not in a disrespectful way. It was kind of like, 'Hey, man, get me in this game now.' I said, 'All right. That's all I need to know, big guy, you're in.' And he went in and slammed the door.

That's the way he is. He made a decision a year ago that he wanted to be in the big leagues and play professional baseball. He's gone about it the right way and if he continues to do it, I have no doubt that he'll get up there.

What strides has he made since he focused on pitching and really got serious about wanting to go pro?

Just his work ethic. He went from being just a guy who worked hard to our hardest worker. He's a phenomenal athlete – he can dunk a basketball. He just made a choice between what he eats, to his workout regimen, to studying the game. It's the little things. It's stuff that might not show up, but if you see him every single day, you'd understand.

How big a part did he play in getting your team where it went this season?

We won 32 games. He had 13 saves and won three of them. So in half of our games, he had either a save or a win. He had a four-inning save against TCU and had a three-inning save against Notre Dame; he had a four-inning save in the championship game of the Horizon League to take us to regionals. Yeah, he was our most outstanding pitcher. He was a huge reason for it.

What can you tell me about his repertoire on the mound?

He throws from down as a sidearm guy, from 88-92 MPH at times, with good life. The fastball is a plus pitch, and then the slider neutralizes righties. It's a very good pitch. This past year, he developed a change-up to pitch to lefties, so he's got a pitch to get a lefty out and a righty out. At this time next year, he's going to be even better than he is now. I'm just excited for him and I think the Mets did their homework and got a great guy.

Did you expect Smith to go in the first 100 picks? Was this something you saw coming?

Last year I didn't. This is my second year here, and this is a guy who walked on here at Wright State. They cut him. He basically asked the previous coaching staff to just let him work out with the team, and they did, and he got better. They kept him on the team and he was a guy they used out of the bullpen quite a bit, throwing over the top.

He was good. He was 83-85 MPH, a good college pitcher who could throw strikes and loved to compete. Then, we got here, and he was never a candidate for us to drop down. We had a bunch of guys who we felt couldn't pitch for us, and we were going to drop them down just to see if they could help us.

Joe was like, 'Hey, I could do that,' but we told him he wasn't a guy we needed to drop down. He could actually pitch a little bit. He was screwing around with it, and we watched him, saying, 'Golly, this is pretty good.' We had to talk him into doing it, because he didn't think he could get drafted that way.

Basically, I told him he had to do it – just give an honest effort at it, and if you don't think it's worth it, we'd put him back. At the end of the year, I had a scout come up and tell me he was up to 91 MPH. It just took off from there. So to answer your question, with as many teams as saw him, I felt he could be picked anywhere from a sandwich pick to where he was taken to all the way down in the fifth or sixth rounds. 94th pick, that doesn't surprise me.

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