June 17, 2009; Omaha, NE, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks pitcher Drew Smyly (33) pitches against the Virginia Cavaliers in the second inning during game nine of the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE

On Drew Smyly and Rushing Prospects


You hear the aphorism regularly and have probably used it yourself: prospects turn out best developed slowly—don’t rush them, as if they’re promoted too raw, the confidence they lose is rarely recovered. With pitchers, you hear they should be given plenty of time to polish their pitches and to learn how to pitch rather than continuing simply to throw, a practice which usually works for the immensely talented when facing minor league hitters but doesn’t go over quite as well upon reaching ‘The Show.’

The Detroit Tigers organization is repeatedly accused of violating this common rule. Jeremy Bonderman, Andrew Miller, Ryan Perry, and Rick Porcello are the headliners of the growing group of young twirlers who, as commanded by current general manager Dave Dombrowski and his staff, were called up to the majors despite, as perceived by scads of observers, the pitchers’ need for further maturation.

Those pitchers, each with their respective failure to fully live up to advertised potential, have left a lingering negative impression on the psyches of numerous Tiger fans. This is obvious, but if evidence is needed, one only need turn their attention to the Lakeland limelight, under which a kaleidoscopic fifth starter competition has been steadily gaining steam. There, you’ll find Drew Smyly and, if you were to check in just over a week ago, you would have seen Jacob Turner. As recent draft picks with limited experience at the high levels of minor league baseball, both have naturally been subjects of much debate this spring; is either ready to make the jump to the big leagues or should they fall back to Triple-A Toledo—or even Double-A Erie—for further seasoning? The question, and the fear behind it, is the reason a good portion of onlookers lean toward middling non-prospect Duane Below as the favorite for a starting spot in Detroit.

In Turner’s case, aversion to promotion may be well-founded. Piles of riches, including a $4.7 million signing bonus, have already been invested by the Tigers in his future, so steep risk is involved. Further, the 20-year-old top prospect was drafted in 2009 straight out of high school. Finally, Turner’s stuff has yet to reach the height of its capacity; while his fastball and curveball are regarded as plus pitches, his changeup supposedly needs work and only recently did he even begin to throw a slider.

Smyly is in a different situation entirely. He’s two years older than Turner, for one. Granted, the former was drafted just a couple years ago, but his progress was aided by two college seasons with the Arkansas Razorbacks of the highly competitive Southeastern Conference. He has yet to play at Triple-A, but his numbers at every other stop, including a 1.18 ERA in seven Erie starts, have shone brightly. Hurling for Team USA at the Baseball World Cup last October, Smyly demonstrated the comfort and poise of a big leaguer, throwing 17 shutout innings while striking out 17 men and walking one. His repertoire doesn’t project to improve much, but it already includes four pitches regarded as major league average. He knows how to pitch and keeps hitters off balance. All things considered, Smyly could presumably gain little from a return to the minors, and considering his widely assumed ceiling as a fourth or fifth starter, Detroit would lose little (besides trade value) if his promotion proves misguided.

This March, Smyly has done nothing to hurt his case. He’s thrown eight innings in Grapefruit League action, allowing one run and three walks while striking out seven. Thursday, he struck out eight in four shutout innings of a minor league game. None of the aforementioned feats are overwhelming, but Smyly has been solid while five other candidates have, at various points, faltered greatly.

Today, you could call him the front-runner to fill the Tigers’ rotation void, or you could place him behind both Below and Andy Oliver—that’s how volatile the running for the spot is. Regardless, and contrary to popular belief, the Tigers should have no qualms about giving the job to a green Smyly should he earn it by outpitching that pair—or continuing to—for the next two weeks.

Tags: Andrew Miller Andy Oliver Drew Smyly Duane Below Jacob Turner Jeremy Bonderman Rick Porcello Ryan Perry

  • Sam Genson

    I absolutely HATE the term “rushing prospects”.  I should probably make a post regarding my rant as it is much too in depth for a comment on your article Garret.
     
    The 5th starter competition sure is fun to watch though.

    • jgorosh

       @Sam Genson Couldnt have said it better myself.

  • garretkc

    Hey everyone, just saw an article from Matt Snyder at The Tigers Den that also makes this point well: http://bit.ly/GKxGJp

  • ChrisHannum

    In most cases, I think the only reason prospects “do better” if they aren’t rushed is that guys who flop in AAA get weeded out so they don’t have a chance to flop in the majors.  Guys can develop as big-leaguers too.

  • http://www.DoctorDaveT.com/ DoctorDaveT

    Biggest difference between Smyly and the other “rushed prospects” mentioned in the above list: competition. None of those guys were really competing with anyone else for the openings they took. They were granted those positions because the Tigers were so barren of talent.
     
    Not so this year.
     
    You don’t think there are 15-25 other teams who would love to have some of these guys as their 5th starter? C’mon! We’re deep with talent here. So deep, I keep hoping that some of it is siphoned off in trade for IF talent (2b that can hit genuine leadoff).
     
    If Smyly AND Oliver were on lots of other teams, this year’s spring training results would have earned them BOTH serious contention for rotation additions.
     
    +1 Smyly

    • garretkc

       @DoctorDaveT That’s a good point. Here’s one argument against Smyly though: If Oliver works out, great; his ceiling is higher. If he’s promoted and he falters, teams were already disillusioned with him anyway and he doesn’t lose much trade value. Smyly, on the other hand, is probably as valuable as he’s going to be right now. If you’re going to trade one of the young lefties, he’s probably the one. If Oliver or Below finishes with a decent spring, I expect them to get the job ahead of Smyly if only to preserve the value of the latter as he continues to post great numbers in the minors. But if he does prove the best option for the Tigers, or the only one from within the organization, I trust him to perform adequately at least as much as I trust John Lannan.

      • http://www.DoctorDaveT.com/ DoctorDaveT

         @garretkc Hey – I agree with the thrust of your reply; but it doesn’t mesh with the main article. This article is about Smyly relative to being rushed; not Smyly relative to Oliver/Below, nor Smyly relative to possible trade value.
         
        If Spring Training ended today, I think Oliver would get the spot, based solely on 2012. However, we all are aware of Oliver’s propensity to give Ws away like they’re Water instead of Walks, so I’m really Wanting to see how Oliver handles the tension of one bad outing.
         
        Since Spring Training doesn’t end today, and everybody will get more innings, I think Smyly is trending up (thus the +1) and Oliver just trended down a little.
         
        One more thought: Smyly is our consensus #2-3 pitching prospect. With Turner out of the sweepstakes, if Oliver has one more bad outing: “If not him, who? If now now, when?”
         
        If Smyly is not this year’s answer to the #5 spot – he must be traded for IF talent ASAP. (Insert sad face here, because I really want to see him pitch. I think he could have Tom Glavine talent.) Package him, one more pitching prospect not named Turner, and Danny Worth – and let’s get us an All-Star 2b that can hit leadoff, shall we?
         

        • garretkc

           @DoctorDaveT Right, I just wanted to put it out there that while I believe Smyly isn’t like other prospects in that we shouldn’t be worried about ‘rushing’ him, there are other reasons for holding off on giving him a major league spot.
           
          On another note mostly unrelated to the article, who would you suggest the Tigers acquire as an “All-Star 2b that can hit leadoff” with, say, a package of Smyly, Worth, and Casey Crosby?

        • http://www.DoctorDaveT.com/ DoctorDaveT

           @garretkc Hey, GKC,
           
          well, I didn’t have a specific name in mind. Then I started thinking – hmm, is Tony Phillips still available? (just kidding.)
           
          I just scoured ESPN’s listing of 2b, and now realize how my youth was ruined on Lou Whitaker! Those guys don’t exist much in the modern era, now, do they?
           
          So, we’re looking for All-Star calibre 2b on teams that are likely not contending for the playoffs. These are the guys that will be available for trade with prospects.
           
          Here’s one name for consideration: Daniel Murphy. I would think he could be had for less than we’re already talking. But I’m not sure he’s substantially better than what we have.
           
          So, question: where are all of the good 2b that can hit leadoff?

        • garretkc

           @DoctorDaveT There are a few guys out there, but they’re either not all that appealing (like Kelly Johnson), older and not generally thought to be expendable (like Brian Roberts), or young and essential building blocks on their current teams (like Jemile Weeks).

        • ChrisHannum

           @DoctorDaveT  @garretkc Where are all the leadoff hitters, period?  There aren’t many guys who have a little speed, not much power and still get on base at any position.  I’d say at second you have Jamey Carroll, who the Tigers passed on because of his age.  Nobody else out there that could be had for any reasonable price (Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, etc… cannot be had) looks like a better leadoff hitter than Austin Jackson or a better overall hitter than Ryan Raburn – and that isn’t meant as praise for either Jackson or Raburn.

        • jgorosh

           @ChrisHannum Proof that those types of players are drafted and developed. Not traded for. 

        • jgorosh

           @garretkc Off topic, but Jamile Weeks isn’t all that exciting to me. Looks like an average player. Kelly Johnson was appealing to me, but he’s not a leadoff hitter. Roberts seems like he’ll never be the same again.

      • jgorosh

         @garretkc I’d rather have Smyly than John Lannan 100 times out of 100. I am one who actually disagrees on the ceiling of Oliver being higher than Smyly, just due to velocity. Getting people out is the object of being a pitcher, and I think that if Smyly perfects his craft, he would be more successful than Andy Oliver perfecting his. Just an opinion though.

  • tiggs1

    Seasoning, and protecting their “young” ARMS IS an admirable way to run a ballclub, however, with the money involved in todays game, these “bonus babies” need to produce much quicker than in the past. GMs are under more pressure to move these guys along. Besides, how many years would the tigers have gotten from Bonderman, or “The Bird” if they had coddled them longer in the minors? If they have talent, why waste it in the “BUSH LEAGUE”? “LET”S SEE WHAT YOU’VE GOT SON!!

    • funkytime

       @tiggs1 I think money is one of the best reasons NOT to call players up too early.  If you let them develop as much as they can in the minors, when you call them up you can have them locked up in their prime years for peanuts.
       
       
      That philosophy has been a big reason the Rays have been able to field such a strong team on such a small budget in recent years. 

    • funkytime

      @tiggs1 I think money is one of the best reasons NOT to call players up too early.  If you let them develop as much as they can in the minors, when you call them up you can have them locked up in their prime years for peanuts.
       
      That philosophy has been a big reason the Rays have been able to field such a strong team on such a small budget in recent years.