Smith's maturity leads to call before other prospects
Left-hander Will Smith has been the forgotten Royals pitching prospect.
Acquired in 2010 in a trade with the Angels for Alberto Callaspo, Smith, 22, has taken a backseat in prospect talk to pitchers such as Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi and Chris Dwyer.
"That's probably because he doesn't really have a blazing fastball," said Royals assistant general manager of player development J.J. Picollo. "And he doesn't have what some scouts would term unbeatable stuff.
"But he's a mature kid who knows how to get hitters out. He is a pitcher."
And perhaps to the surprise of many observers, it was Smith, not the others, who got to the big leagues first two weeks ago at Yankee Stadium.
Now, Smith is ready to make his third big-league start and his first at Kauffman Stadium tonight against Minnesota.
And he isn't concerned that he hasn't received the same hype as other Royals' pitching prospects.
"Doesn't matter to me at all," he said. "They're all great pitchers. They'll get here, too. I'm rooting for them.
"That's just the way it worked out. I got here first. But I have total confidence they'll be here soon, too."
Overly modest, perhaps?
"I was happy with myself," Smith said, smiling. "Don't get me wrong. But it just means you have to keep working harder. You can't let up just because you got here. You can be gone tomorrow."
Actually, it was somewhat of a head-scratcher that Smith got promoted when he did.
Smith turned in a fine season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas in 2011, leading the Texas League in victories with 13 while posting a 3.85 ERA.
But Smith wasn't exactly humbling Pacific Coast League hitters this spring for Triple-A Omaha – he was 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA.
"I felt like I was pitching pretty well, though," he said. "I had a couple of tough losses. I had a 2-1 loss to Round Rock (Texas) and another 3-2 game."
Still, Smith had no idea a promotion to the big leagues was coming when it done.
"It was a total surprise," he said. "It was amazing. You work so hard to get to the big leagues and then you get the call. You don't know quite how to react."
Smith didn't have long to pat himself on the back. His first start came at Yankee Stadium and it didn't exactly have Royals fans pining for more.
Smith gave up three home runs and five earned runs. He looked timid throughout and didn't make it out of the fourth inning.
"I wasn't intimidated and I wasn't scared," he insisted. "I never get scared as an athlete.
"I was definitely nervous. It's not an excuse. I didn't make my pitches when I had to."
Smith, though, got another start, mainly because the Royals had few options, at Cleveland.
After another rough first inning in which he surrendered two runs, Smith settled down and turned in an eye-opening quality start against the Tribe – six innings, four hits, two earned runs, no walks and five strikeouts.
"Eventually I just got mad at myself," Smith said. "I got mad enough to trust my stuff."
Does it take an earned run or two to get Smith ticked?
"I can get mad without that," he said. "I get mad all the time. But this was different. I got mad at myself for not going with what I knew could work."