Aoki Trade: So who is Will Smith?

Ed Zurga

Let's take a closer look at the newest Brewer.

Earlier today the Brewers made their first major offseason move, trading Norichika Aoki to the Royals for pitcher Will Smith. We all know about Aoki and what he brought to the Brewers, but what do we know about Will Smith?

Background

Smith was a relatively unheralded minor leaguer. The Angels took him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft and traded him to the Royals in 2010 as part of a package for infielder Alberto Callaspo. Before the 2012 season John Sickels of Minor League Ball left Smith off of his list of the Royals top 22 prospects, listing him as an honorable mention and ranking him behind guys like Jeremy Jeffress.

Smith made 16 starts as a 22-year-old for the 2012 Royals and struggled, posting a 5.32 ERA and striking out just 5.9 batters per nine innings. He moved primarily to relief in 2013 and had his best season, posting a 3.03 ERA in 89 innings for AAA Omaha and a 3.24 mark in 33.1 innings for the Royals.

Smith's minor league numbers are relatively unimpressive: He has a career 3.80 ERA over 133 appearances, striking out 7.6 batters per nine innings with 2.2 walks. To put those numbers in context, though, I think it's important to remember that he was pretty young for every level. Smith pitched in the low-A Midwest League in his age 19 season, reached AAA as a 20-year-old in 2010 and was only 22 when he made his MLB debut.

Smith is still only 24 now. To put that in perspective, he's younger than Jimmy Nelson, Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta or Johnny Hellweg.

Arsenal

Smith is left handed and FanGraphs shows his fastball as sitting in the low 90's, averaging 91 as a reliever in 2013 and 90.5 as a starter in 2012. This year as a reliever he relied very heavily on his slider (almost 30% of all pitches), but he also has a curveball and changeup. He's listed at 6'5" and 250 lbs, so he'll be one of the Brewers' bigger pitchers.

Smith shows reasonably solid control numbers, having walked just 2.2 batters per nine innings in the minors and 2.9 in the majors. The troubling side note to that stat, though, is that he's prone to allowing home runs: He gave up 1.3 per nine innings in two seasons as a Royal.

Statistically, it looks like Smith keeps his walk rate low by throwing hittable pitches in hitters' counts. Admittedly these are small sample size numbers, but check out these MLB splits:

Split PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
After 1-0 count 221 .331 .421 .602 1.023
After 2-0 count 81 .333 .543 .648 1.191
After 3-0 count 26 .500 .885 1.333 2.218
In Full Count 51 .364 .588 .515 1.103

The Brewers may have some work to do to convince Smith not to "give in" after falling behind in counts.

Role

One of the first assumptions we frequently make when we see a lefty reliever is that he'll be a situational lefty. Let me make this clear on Day One: There is very little in Smith's past that suggests he'll be effective in that role.

Over 123 career MLB innings, here are Smith's platoon splits:

Split PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
vs RHB 360 .283 .337 .466 .803
vs LHB 167 .289 .337 .447 .785

Smith was better against lefties in the minors in 2013, but in 2012 he was actually better against righties for Omaha. In 2011 he was roughly neutral.

For now the Brewers say they're planning on treating Smith as a starter in camp. It's hard to believe, barring injury, that he'll beat out a guy like Tyler Thornburg or Jimmy Nelson for a rotation spot, though. At the moment he's likely better suited for a long relief role and "swingman" duties, freeing up Tom Gorzelanny for more consistent late-inning work.

Contract Status

Despite having pitched in the majors in both 2012 and 2013, Smith has slightly less than a year of MLB service time. He'll be a pre-arbitration player again in 2014 and 2015, then will likely qualify for Super 2 status for 2016. Assuming all of that is correct, he'd be eligible for free agency following the 2019 season.

Perhaps more importantly, Smith was added to the Royals MLB roster in 2012 and optioned back to the minors in 2012 and 2013, so it appears he has one minor league option remaining.

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