MadFriars' Interview: Burch Smith

Burch Smith was taken in the 14th round of the 2011 MLB draft out of the University of Oklahoma. Despite only appearing in two rookie league games, the Padres thought enough of him to let him begin his professional career in High-A Lake Elsinore. Burch hasn't disappointed.

Smith leads the Cal League with 119 strikeouts through 104 innings against only 18 walks. He ranks in the top five in wins, ERA, and WHIP.

Burch was nice enough to spend a few minutes talking about the transition to pro ball, strikeouts, and his love for baseball.

In your last start, you completely shut Lancaster down with 10 strikeouts in 5 innings. How did you think you did?

Burch Smith: It was a lot of fun. I haven't really been trying to do anything different from start to start. Mainly take the same approach, which is to go after hitters, throw strikes, and let the defense do the work.

The report on you is that you are a "power pitcher." What makes you a power pitcher?

Burch Smith : To me a power pitcher is someone whose best pitch is their fastball and they use their other pitches to set it up. He uses his fastball to get ahead and locates it well.

What was the biggest difference between pitching at a small college (Howard) compared to a Big 12 school like Oklahoma?

Burch Smith : The biggest difference was just the campus life and getting to be around other students. OU has a great student body that is always active 24/7.

From a baseball perspective the other thing was just the speed of the game. While the players are around the same age, the ability and speed is just different enough that if you are not careful it can overtake you. Sometimes I would find myself letting the game start to get out of hand really quickly. I had to learn to calm down, step off the rubber, and just take a deep breath. I can then remember that I am the pitcher, and can dictate the tempo of the game.

Howard is a small school in a small town. I still think going there was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I felt like I got a lot better. The coaches were great, and I couldn't have asked for better guys to be around.

You were ranked by Baseball America as a top 100 prospect coming into the draft, and yet you fell all the way to the 14th round. Did it matter to you when you were drafted?

Burch Smith : It didn't really matter to me. I am just glad I was given the opportunity to play at the next level. I tried not to worry about the draft too much, and just told myself that whatever happens, happens. I'm glad I am getting an opportunity to play for the Padres

The scouting report out of school stated that you have ace potential, but little deception in your delivery made you more hittable then you should be. Have the coaches done anything to alter your delivery as you are virtually unhittable now?

Burch Smith : Haha, not sure about unhittable but thanks. The coaches really haven't done anything to change my delivery. Really the only thing they have worked with me on is the mental side of the game. I guess they like what they see from the physical standpoint, and haven't tried to change my pitches, or anything from a pitching standpoint. I guess they really have been working with me on how to attack hitters mentally, how to pitch to hitters that are "locked in," how to go through a complete season without letting the grind get to you. I think that is what I have worked on the most.

Have they set a limit for your innings this year?

Burch Smith : I was told at the beginning of the year my limit was 120 innings. I am at 104 right now, with eight starts left. We're going to have to figure out something but it will work out. It is kind of frustrating to be honest to have a pitch count or inning limit, but I understand the reasoning behind it. Especially since it is my first year I get it.

Speaking of being in your first year, what was the adjustment like going from virtually no time in the Arizona League to High-A?

Burch Smith : I had a solid two innings last year in the AZL. It was actually pretty crazy. Whenever my friends ask me about it, I tell them AZL and instructs to High-A is by far the biggest jump I have ever had to make in my career. Just as far as the level. Coming from where I was, since I can't really count the AZL since it was so brief, I look at it more as going to High-A from the Big 12.

The biggest thing is that hitters are a lot more aggressive, but at the same time are disciplined enough to know what they are looking for and come up to the plate with a plan. So I need to be more on top of my game in order to have success.

Is it tough being a fly ball pitcher in the Cal League?

Burch Smith : Definitely! I have given up my fair share of homeruns this season, many of which I didn't think were gone off the bat. It has taught me to make sure I keep the ball down. First half, I was letting the ball leak up, even if it was just a few inches. The past month or so I think I have done a better job at keeping the ball down. It definitely is tough.

Do you change anything as a pitcher knowing you are in such an offense-oriented league? Does your mentality change if you are making a start in High Desert versus Lake Elsinore?

Burch Smith : A bit. I mean it is never a bad thing to keep the ball down. More swings and misses, more ground balls. You just have to make your pitch and then let the defense do their job. That is the same in any ball park.

Most players get caught up in the Lancasters and High Deserts where you can get jammed on a pitch and still hit it 400 feet. But those places usually are barren, and as fun as it is to hit a homer, it doesn't mean as much when you are hitting it in front of only 25 people. Lake Elsinore all the way!

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