Scott Marks 1 p.m., July 30
Who in the hell is Burch Smith and why is he starting for the Padres on Saturday?
Once considered a project for any major league club willing to draft him, Burch Smith is suddenly a promising prospect that the Padres are willing to take a chance on.
Burch Smith was considered to be a project when he was ultimately drafted by the Padres in the 14th round in the 2011 draft. He had a decent enough fastball, but in the low 90’s, it wasn’t considered anything that special, and his secondary pitches all needed work.
The Cleveland Indians organization had their eyes on Smith when he was at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas. For a junior college, Howard is a big deal in the baseball world. Smith led Howard to the 2009 JuCo championships.
So, there is a link between Howard and the Oklahoma Sooners, apparently. Consecutive conference titles at Howard drew the interest of OU, and Burch Smith was one such player in that baseball program. Burch went 10-4 in 16 starts there, and others have followed in his footsteps. Scouts take good notes on this stuff.
But Smith was always considered a project. His fastball was okay, his command was okay, but there was something missing. His arm was a rocket but the ordnance was lacking, perhaps.
The Padres drafted him out of OU in the 14th round after the Indians struck out twice, Burch decided to stand pat and wait. He pitched briefly in the Rookie League in Arizona and then went directly to Lake Elsinore where he went 9-6 with a 3.85 earned run average, which is awesome in the California League.
This season, he started in San Antonio, went 1-2 but in 31 innings he struck out 37 against only six walks. His fastball reached 100 mph when he wants to unleash that beast. His secondary pitches have improved. The Padres are willing to see how that translated in the bigs.
Is Burch Smith ready to face major league bats? We’ll see. The problem with calling up a young arm is that everything they’ve faced prior had trouble catching up to the fastball. Burch will see hitters that can hit his stuff.
The obvious prediction with Burch Smith is that if he gets lit-up, he’ll be one-and-done, back down to AA and humbled and working to get straight. If he does well, then maybe the Padres pitch him again, to see if he can do it twice. But against the Rays on Saturday, Burch will never forget his first start.
No pitcher I’ve ever met doesn’t remember their first start in The Show. Ask manager Buddy Black about his sometime. He might not tell you all of the details, but I guarantee you he’ll never forget it.
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