TRENTON, NJ – Back in June 2013, the Yankees were rather excited to see lefty Caleb Smith available when their 14th-round selection came up.
He was a focused type, one who had not pitched all that much at Sam Houston (Texas) State, who had a live arm, three pitches and an awful lot of potential. So far, the Yankees may have gotten a 14th-round steal. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Wednesday.
Friday night in Trenton’s Arm & Hammer Park, Smith, who celebrated his 24th birthday July 28, showed what he can do when all is working just the way he needs it to. His fastball sat at 95, his slider was dipping and biting and his changeup kept Richmond’s batters off-balance in six shutout innings of a 6-0 Trenton Thunder victory.
Throwing 85 pitches, he allowed just four hits, walked one and struck out 11.
“This was Caleb’s best start of the year,” said Thunder manager Al Pedrique. “He had all of his pitches working, and his command was excellent.
“He’s really been stepping up lately, and pitching outstanding baseball for us as we aim to keep pushing for the playoffs.”
Smith has shown spots of brilliance before, pitching to a 1-2, 1.93 report card in 2013 between Staten Island and a spot start in Trenton. He made 14 appearances – 10 starts – and became a full-time starter in 2014, putting together a 10-9, 3.67 mark in 27 starts between Class-A stops Charleston and Tampa. His strikeout.walk ratio was 116-46 and he held opposing hitters to a .228 average. He threw 117.2 innings.
At Trenton for the entire 2015 season, with a team that saw starting pitchers such as Luis Severino, now in the Yankees rotation, and Brady Lail promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Smith is getting over the challenging Double-A hurdle.
After Friday’s win, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Huntsville, Texas, native is 9-6, 3,42 in 23 Trenton appearances (22 starts). He battled through a bit of inconsistency earlier in the season, but has not allowed an earned run and only 11 hits in his last 16 innings. He has thrown a career-high 118.1 innings with a strikeout/walk ratio of 85-48.
“I’m really pleased with the way I feel on the mound right now,” said Smith after Friday night’s win. “I could tell in my bullpen it was going to be a good night.
“All my pitches were working well. I was able to mix it up and keep the hitters off-balance. My slider was producing a lot of strikeouts. It was definitely my best start.”
Smith, who was running his fastball up there quickly and hitting spots, shut down a solid-hitting team.
“What helped was Francisco Arcia, my catcher, called a great game,” said Smith. “He called every pitch and I just tried to throw it where I could and hit the glove. I have to give him a lot of credit.”
Arcia has worked with the Thunder staff well – in tandem with Eddy Rodriguez – since Gary Sanchez’s promotion to Triple-A Scranton. Insiders will tell you he is a solid player in his own right who runs a game very well.
“Both Arcia and Eddy have worked well with Caleb.” said Pedrique. “When he is throwing the ball like that, it’s a pleasure to watch.”
Smith has a simple goal when he takes the mound.
“I just want to do my part to help my team win,” he said.
Smith may have been a bit raw when he was first drafted, but, along with Lail, Eric Ruth, Cale Coshow and Rookie Davis, he is one of the next group of emerging starting pitchers in the ever-improving Yankees farm system.
And quite a discovery as a 14th-round pick.