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Baltimore Orioles

Oriole of the Day: Loss of control spoils Kevin Smith’s first season in organization

Over the past week, Major League Baseball and its players’ union have met daily to try to complete a new collective bargaining agreement.

The league has already elected to postpone the start of spring training games until at least March 8; at any point, the owners could choose to lift the lockout they unanimously implemented when the previous CBA expired and allow the season to begin. Instead, negotiations between the league and players over a collection of issues are threatening Opening Day, with the league announcing the season will start later than March 31 as scheduled if there isn’t an agreement in place by Monday.

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In the meantime, the Orioles and other teams are unable to adjust their 40-man rosters or even acknowledge the players who are members of them. The Baltimore Sun can at least do the latter, and in the final stretch of its Oriole of the Day series, we’ll take a close look at some of the youngest members of Baltimore’s 40-man roster. The remaining players have yet to make their major league debuts.

When Kevin Smith joined the organization in a 2020 trade with the New York Mets for reliever Miguel Castro, he added to its bevy of young left-handers lacking overpowering stuff. He pitched effectively in the high minors until the evaporation of his control led to a dreadful closing stretch.

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Quick hits

2022 Opening Day age: 24

2021 stats: 4.59 ERA, 82 1/3 innings, 105 strikeouts, 1.615 WHIP, 27.8 K%, 15.6 BB% with Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk

Under team control through: 2027

2021 in review

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Number to know: 17.9%. Among pitchers who threw as many innings in Triple-A as Smith, none walked a higher percentage of the batters they faced than he did. Across his first 10 outings — the first six of which came in Double-A — Smith’s walk rate was 9.4%, but he walked 21.2% of opposing batters over his final dozen appearances. After hitting three batters in 117 innings in 2019, Smith hit five batters in 56 1/3 Triple-A frames in 2021.

What was good: For most of the year, Smith alleviated his walk issues by preventing damage otherwise. He walked a less-than-desirable 13.6% of batters through his first 14 outings — spanning from early May to early August — but he had a 2.86 ERA thanks to limiting batters to a .202/.324/.320 line and striking out 31.4% of them (only five Orioles farmhands finished with a strikeout rate that high for the full season). Even slicing that stretch to only his Triple-A starts, Smith held hitters to .207/.350/.360. In his final two starts of that span, he allowed nine walks in 9 2/3 innings but allowed only one hit and no runs.

What wasn’t: In his final eight appearances with Norfolk, Smith walked at least three batters five times, issuing 26 walks in 25 2/3 innings. He had an 8.42 ERA and allowed a 1.129 OPS, with the 10 home runs he surrendered representing double the number he had previously given up. More of the third of the hitters he faced in his final three starts drew a walk, with fewer than half of his pitches being strikes.

Looking ahead to 2022

Likely 2022 role: Midseason rotation or bullpen option

What’s projected: With both projecting an ERA over 5, ZiPS and Steamer see Smith having the same struggles his soft-tossing predecessors did if he reaches the majors. Whether he actually does so is contingent on improving his control. Given he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, Smith is impacted by the MLB lockout and is unable to participate in team activities, including playing in the minor leagues should the lockout stretch into next month. That would obviously delay his arrival to the majors.

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A step forward: With how his season ended, Smith clearly needed a reset. His control problems were atypical based on what he had previously shown in his career, with the walk rate he posted with Norfolk more than double his previous mark as a professional, including his time in 2021 with Bowie. There, he also posted a groundball rate twice as high as his flyball rate, allowing more of the latter while in Triple-A. Improved control could allow him to recapture the groundball-heavy, high-strikeout ways he showed in Bowie and put him in Camden Yards sometime this summer.

Three up, three down

The past three players featured in The Baltimore Sun’s Oriole of the Day series were DL Hall, Kyle Bradish and Terrin Vavra. The final Orioles due up next are Félix Bautista and Logan Gillaspie.


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