No. 40: Chad Smith, RHP
Chad Smith was drafted by the Tigers in the 17th round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Southern California (USC). Smith injured his elbow during April of 2011 while pitching for USC, and underwent Tommy John surgery during May of that year. The Tigers drafted him in June anyways, banking on a complete recovery and a potential draft steal in the future. Smith began his college career at USC as a starter, but moved to the closer's role during his junior year, where he finally found a niche as a hard throwing reliever with a hard slider. Smith signed with the Tigers in 2011, and was sidelined for the entirety of the season as he recovered from surgery. In 2012, he was still recovering and gaining strength as spring training wore on into the beginning of the regular season, so Smith stayed behind in Lakeland, rehabbing and getting his strength back. He was then assigned to the Tigers Rookie League team in the Gulf Coast League (GCL), before being promoted to the Short Season team in Connecticut, and finally finishing out the year with Class A-West Michigan. Overall, he amassed 45 2/3 IP split between the 3 levels, while racking up 48 strikeouts, only 14 walks, and finishing with a combined 2.76 ERA and 1.18 WHIP: A nice return season, no doubt. Smith is viewed by the Tigers as a reliever, but he did make several starts over the course of 2012, no doubt to help him gain innings and strengthen his surgically repaired arm.
Smith stands 6'3" and weighs in at around 215lbs, so he's got some good size working for him. When in college, Smith worked with a fastball that sat in the 92-93 range, but he showed flashes of being able to reach the mid 90's on occasion. Reports of Smith in 2012 (remember, coming off of Tommy John) said that he was sitting comfortably in the low 90's, but that extra velocity wasn't there yet. I have no problem projecting that Smith will be able to reach the mid 90's again as he regains full strength, and probably with more consistency. He also throws a slider that sits in the low 80's, but I don't know anything of it's projectability or current grade, so I won't pretend to. There is an article from The Daily Trojan, which describes the slider as "hard" and an "out pitch", but I can neither confirm nor deny this report. That article can be found here. As a reliever, Smith doesn't necessarily need a 3rd pitch, and I haven't seen any reports of him having a change up, either in college or with the Tigers.
Smith profiles best as, like I've said, a 1-2 innings reliever. I don't know enough about him to say whether or not he has a 8th inning ceiling, but if he develops a mid 90's fastball and a plus slider that he can command, I see no reason why he couldn't have a 7th-8th inning profile. I talked to a scout who saw Smith in the GCL this year, and he told me that the Tigers may have gotten a steal with Smith in the 17th round if he can come all the way back from surgery, which he certainly looks on track to do. As far as 2013 goes, I'd like to see Smith head back to West Michigan to assure that he's healthy, and perhaps head to Lakeland or even Erie as the season wears on, depending of course on how he performs and how his elbow responds. He just turned 23 a couple months ago, so he's a bit older than his development, but he could move quickly through the system if his health is 100%.
Reminder: Follow the Detroit Tigers Prospect Report on twitter @TigersProspects, and you can also follow my personal account @B_Sakowski. And if you're into Facebook, feel free to "like" us over there as well.