Montgomery, Alabama —— On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays traded right-handed relief pitching prospect Drew Smith to the New York Mets in exchange for big league first baseman Lucas Duda. While the lumbering first baseman exemplifies the Tampa Bay Rays belief that they can go for it this year, for the Mets, Drew Smith represents a fascinating potential future bullpen arm who is a fringe prospect right now and could become a decent set-up man down the road.
Smith, still just 23 years old, was originally drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the MLB Draft back in 2015. The Tampa Bay Rays acquired him in a trade with Detroit at the end of April, and now, after several arm injuries the last few years that have likely permanently relegated him to a bullpen role, Smith is on the move again to the New York Mets. The righty throws a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, and his quirky mechanics and closed-off landing give him some deception that could mean trouble—especially for right-handed hitters—at the big league level.
Drew Smith, RHP, New York Mets — Recent Game Video
First, let’s take a look at Drew Smith pitching for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, in what ended up being his second-to-last outing with the Tampa Bay Rays before being traded to New York. We’ve got a breakdown of his stuff plus a look at his mechanics in this video here, too:
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Drew Smith sits anywhere from 90-95 mph with his fastball, a fairly conventional offering with both four-seam and two-seam wrinkles, though the righty doesn’t get exceptionally significant arm-side run with it. The pitch is sneaky fast, though; because Smith hides the ball so well and closes off radically upon landing to throw, his fastball sneaks up on hitters and looks much faster than it is, making it a tough pitch to square up (especially when down in the zone). As such, it plays up a bit even beyond the mid-90s feel in short bullpen stints.
Smith couples the fastball with an overhand curveball that breaks 11-to-5. It’s a sharp pitch, and sits in the low 80s with tight spin out of his hand. It can get too horizontal and sweeping at times when the prospect gets around the ball rather than remaining on top of it, but when thrown well, it’s a legitimate bat-misser that gives Drew Smith a real weapon against right-handed hitters specifically. His third pitch is a circle changeup that isn’t as advanced as the first two, but can sometimes flash above-average thanks to very late arm-side run with downward tumble. If the changeup can become more consistent, it’ll be a viable weapon for him against lefties, but as it stands now it’s too hit or miss to be counted on to the same degree as Smith’s fastball and curveball and it’s liable to flatten out too often to be counted on in high-leverage situations.
So what do the New York Mets make of Drew Smith? He’s got a strong arm, even after injury problems in his past, and above average command of all three pitches along with life in his raw power stuff tell me he’ll miss bats in the big leagues just as he has in the minors across his career. Smith (most likely) isn’t a future big league closer, but he’s a strike thrower with hard stuff who likes to challenge hitters and that, combined with his natural deception, means he’s going to get some innings in high-leverage situations. If there’s a knock on Drew Smith, it’s that he has yet to throw a full season due to injuries. He’s on pace to do so this year, though, and getting a full season under his belt now will do well to quell fears about whether he can handle the rigors of a big league bullpen.
Considering the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Lucas Duda as a rental, and the first baseman is a free agent in a couple months, Drew Smith is a fairly strong return for the New York Mets. If all goes according to plan, the pitching prospect ought to find himself in the mix for big league set-up man innings come spring training, while likely making a significant impact in the Mets’ bullpen later on in the 2018 season.