The 2019 season has been all about settling into a rhythm and repeating results for lefthanded pitcher Kevin Smith, a Mets prospect piling up innings for the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
Drafted in the seventh round in 2018 out of the University of Georgia, Smith bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen in his first season of professional baseball. Anointed a full-time starter this season, he’s started his climb up the Mets’ system.
He opened the year with Class A Port St. Lucie and posted a 3.05 ERA in 17 starts, earning a promotion to Binghamton. In his first start for the Rumble Ponies on July 20, he allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings.
In five Double-A starts, Smith owns a 1.98 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he’s allowed only six home runs in 113 innings between both levels. He’s ranked the Mets’ No. 11 prospect, according to MLB.com.
“I felt good,” Smith said after his most recent start, a win over New Hampshire in which he allowed two hits and no runs in six innings and threw a season-high 94 pitches. “Good game to bounce back from the one before that.”
He allowed three runs, five hits and five walks in a four-inning start six days previously, and although he’s been largely successful, blips like this are part of his maturation. He wasn’t drafted out of Dunwoody High School in Georgia but pitched three strong collegiate seasons.
“I think most scouts agreed that I needed to go to college and mature there,” said Smith, who throws from a low three-quarters slot and has done so since he was growing up. As a result, lefthanded hitters have a hard time against him.
Because he’s now a regular starting pitcher, Smith said he’s worked on developing a changeup to give him a third pitch in his arsenal. With a fastball in the low 90s and a changeup about 10 mph slower, Smith works to get hitters off balance and maintain control of the count. His slider is generally his strikeout pitch.
“Every starter needs at least three pitches, so it’s something that me and all my coaches and coordinators decided,” he said.
“My changeup has developed. I had a good changeup to start the year, but throughout this entire year, I’ve developed a much better changeup and I throw it more than I used to.”
As he continues to rise through the Mets' system, Smith has emphasized his work between starts. He said the primary difference between college and the pros is the amount of time between starts.
“In college if you’re a starter, you have a lot more rest,” said Smith, who tried his hand at both starting and relieving in college but primarily worked as a starter in his final season at Georgia. “In pro ball, you’re throwing every five or six days.”
He said he “found out that routine pretty quickly” and has “stuck through it the entire year.” That could partially explain why he’s had so few poor starts. He’s allowed three or more runs in only six starts and one or fewer runs in 13 starts.