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Rotation candidate profile: Drew Smyly

The Tigers drafted Drew Smyly as a sophomore out of the University of Arkansas with their second pick in the June, 2010 amateur player draft. One season later, the 6-foot-3 left handed pitcher is poised to make a run at filling the final spot in the Tigers major league rotation this spring. The Tigers’ minor league pitcher of the year is one of several lefties who would like to begin the 2012 season at the back end of the Tiger rotation.

After just one season of professional baseball, a season that began at Advanced-A Lakeland and finished up at Double-A Erie, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says that there are some within the Tiger organization that believe Smyly is ready for the major leagues right now. If his minor league statistics are any indication, they may be right. Smyly posted an impressive 2.58 ERA in 14 starts at Lakeland, and an even more impressive 1.18 ERA in seven starts when he was promoted to AA Erie.

Between his two stops on the minor league trail during the 2011 season, Smyly struck out 130 batters in 126.1 innings of work, while walking just 36 and allowing only two home runs to opposing hitters. He is not an extreme ground ball pitcher, but he induces more grounders than fly balls, and he features a good fastball that he can throw consistently for strikes in the low 90's. He then pitched for Team USA in the Baseball World Cup last October.

Jonathan Mayo at ranks Smyly No. 82 on his list of top 100 prospects, tenth among left handed pitchers, and he had this to say about Drew.

Scouting report: Smyly is the prototypical advanced college lefty, one who relies on pitchability more than pure stuff. He has a four-pitch mix -- fastball, cutter, curve and changeup -- all of which are at least Major League average. He throws a lot of strikes and has a good amount of deception, keeping hitters off-balance well. If he can stay healthy -- he has some injury history -- he’s a fast-tracker who should be ready sooner rather than later.

Smyly does not have the upside of a Jacob Turner, nor that of an Andrew Oliver for that matter, but he might be closer to being ready for showtime than either of those two prospects at this stage in his career. Smyly projects to be a good back of the rotation starting pitcher. His four seam fastball is his bread and butter pitch, and secondary offerings include a sweeping curve ball, a change up, and a cutter that he likes to throw in on the hands of right handed hitters. has a scouting video of Smyly here.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball prospectus is not as optimistic about Smyly's future, leaving him off his list of 101 top prospects. When I asked Goldstein via Twitter whether Smyly was close, he replied not really, because Smyly's stuff doesn't really match his great numbers.

After going 9-1 with a 2.80 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 18 games (just 14 starts), Smyly was named second team all SEC at Arkansas. Most observers consider him to be the third best prospect in the Tiger organization, after Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos, and he has passed up Oliver and Casey Crosby as the highest rated lefty starting pitcher. Smyly did this interview with an Arkansas based reporter shortly after the Tigers lured him away from college with a $ 1.1 million signing bonus. The Tigers announced the signings of Smyly and Nick Castellanos on the last day for players to sign in August, 2010.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Smyly, health wise. During a Q&A with he talked about how he developed his cutter when he had a severe blister while pitching at Arkansas, and he still has two screws in his elbow which will remain there. The MiLB interview can be read here in it's entirety.

Smyly will be in Lakeland as a non roster invitee because he is not yet on the Tigers’ 40-man roster. He is the only NRI that has a legitimate shot at making the Tigers’ opening day rotation. The Tigers have not put him on the roster yet because he has only a single season of professional baseball under his belt, so he did not need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. If he does make the team, the Tigers will have to make a corresponding move to open a roster spot for him. If not by opening day, there is a decent chance that Smyly will be making his major league debut at some point during the 2012 season.