Watching Drew Smyly | The Process Report

Watching Drew Smyly

When Drew Smyly takes the mound on Tuesday, he’ll become the first member of the David Price trade to debut for the Rays. Here’s what to expect.

The 25-year-old Smyly joins Tampa Bay after appearing in more than 100 games over the past three seasons for Detroit. Though he’s succeeded in the past as a reliever, his future is in the rotation.

Smyly is athletic enough to repeat his somewhat unorthodox mechanics. His arm action, long in the back, grants right-handed batters a look at the ball. However, he atones for that with a high release point that adds deception. Smyly does most of his work with a three-pitch arsenal, led by a fastball and also featuring a cutter and curveball. He controls each pitch well, thus creating the extra looks necessary to work through a lineup multiple times.

In addition to Smyly’s willingness to throw his fastball inside against anyone, he has enough skill to place his curveball within and outside of the zone—often in prime fishing location. (It’s worth noting that Smyly has one of the best strike rates on his curveball in the league.) Locating pitches makes any pitcher look smarter, but Smyly’s intelligence is evident in how he sequences. He has a feel for the craft and understands not only how to mix his pitches in order to control the opposition’s batspeed, but how to add and subtract break and velocity. The package is good enough for Smyly to project as a middle-of-the-rotation starter now and heading forward.

Still, while Smyly is what he is for the most part, there is room for growth. Presumably Jim Hickey will work with Smyly to improve his command, possibly his repertoire, and his efficiency. Whether the Rays ask him to toy with a changeup again is uncertain, but if nothing else he could stand to enhance his arsenal by employing a trick used by Jon Lester (among others). In addition to having better stuff and command, Lester—another southpaw who relies heavily on his fastball, cutter, and curve—has the confidence in his cutter to use it to his arm side. Smyly hasn’t shown—at least not in the observed starts—the capacity to place his cutter on the corner without having it leak over, and while it’s far from a must, it would add another dimension to his already deeper-than-perceived arsenal.

In Smyly, the Rays have a young big-league pitcher with past success and some chicken left on the developmental bone. He won’t ever become or top Price, but that’s not the goal. The goal should be for Smyly, like Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi before him, to become his own pitcher, rather than trying in vain to fill the shoes of the player he was acquired for.


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