Right-handed pitcher Ryan Smith was drafted by Angels in 2019, part of a draft class that saw Will Wilson and Kyren Paris picked up by the Angels. Like his draft day peers, Smith also has a high level of ability waiting to be achieved. Smith was drafted out of Princeton University with 165.1 total innings under his belt as a starter, but ended up seeing the majority of his work as a reliever with the Rookie Ball Orem Owlz in his first year with the Angels organization. Due to the circumstances of the 2021 season Smith, like every other Minor Leaguer, found himself without a team, but despite this setback Ryan Smith managed to take charge of his own career track and came into 2021 season better than he’s ever been.
The 2021 season has seen Ryan Smith hitting every gear with his development, as of now he currently sports a bright and shiny 14.3 K/9 (44 Ks in 27.2 innings) with a miniscule 1.63 ERA to boot. His value has absolutely skyrocketed as the young star continues to establish himself as one of the better arms in the Angels system with each and every appearance. While we understand that a handful of minor league starts is a pretty limited sample size the biggest tell regarding his future success is the consistency in his high motor performance. Across these five starts Smith has allowed no more than 2 runs a start while averaging over 5 innings each appearance. His best outing to date came May 21th in a start that saw Smith throw 6 innings of 13 K baseball while walking just one. Prior to the 2021 season Smith hadn’t struck out more than 4 in a single game, yet in this 2021 season Smith has struck out at least seven men in each start.
The stuff is so clearly there, the command is there, the mentality is there, so the only question is when will Smith be here with the big league Angels?
Current Team: High A Tri-City Dust Devils
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
D.D: We’re a month into your Low-A debut, are you noticing any general improvements over the course of the first month?
R.S: Oh definitely! Especially with the whole year off in 2020. It had been almost year and a half since I last got to pitch in games, I definitely feel a bit different as a pitcher. My velocity is up a little bit, I’ve definitely polished the command of all four pitches. With all the time off in 2020 I was just getting ready to come back. I think everybody knew it was going to be a super competitive year. I put a lot of emphasis on pitch development this offseason, I definitely feel an improvement from where I was in 2019. I’m ready to roll this year
D.D: Speaking off the time off in 2020, what were you doing to keep yourself in shape?
R.S: I trained back at home, I’m born and raised in New York, I trained at a gym about a half an hour from my house. There was about 9 or 10 of us Minor League guys training out there. We would lift, throw live at bats to some of the minor league hitters who were around there. It was a very good, competitive atmosphere training with other minor league pitchers and hitters. It made things a little competitive. Kept us on our toes and away from the rut of training by yourself. It’s nice to have guys you’re competing against around you.
D.D: What are the differences you’ve noticed in your mentality from the 2019 season to today?
R.S: Some of it comes from not taking baseball for granted and going out there and enjoying the time you have to pitch. Also, just being super-aggressive; I’ve always been a work-fast-and-attack-the-zone kind of guy, but I think after the time off and being able to throw off the mound a bunch and developing my pitches, I think the mentality of really attacking the zone with everything and trying to get ahead in every count. Trying to constantly be up 0-1, 0-2, that’s what’s helped me be successful. As a pitcher we control the game, so just trying to maintain that mentality and keep up the attitude.
2020: 27.2 IP 1.63 ERA
44 Ks 7 BBs
At the age of 23, you would have to think there is just a little more seasoning to go before the young star is fully primed and ready to operate in the highest level of competition there is. The 2021 season is Smith’s second with the Angels organization, his first season pitching above Rookie ball, and his first return to baseball following the 2020 season. There still needs to be some time to see him stretch himself out at a couple different levels of competition, but the fact remains that Smith is well on his way to raking in the promotions. His Rookie ball season (2019) saw him throw only 25.2 innings, and while his strikeouts were on point (37 Ks), he struggled a bit with the walk while he was learning how to miss bats with his pitches. Overall, he allowed nearly one hit per inning while finishing the year with a 5.26 ERA. However, rookie ball isn’t about stats and success, it’s about learning to adjust to the new environment of minor league baseball and coming to terms with what one needs from themselves in order to find success.
Ryan Smith has made strides since his Rookie ball debut; the young star managed to elevate his phenomenal strikeout ability while overcoming his previous difficulties with consistently attacking the zone. While we do need to see Smith tested at higher levels, the fact that he’s made such intense improvements, both mentally and physically, from Rookie ball to Low-A shows that he understands what is required out of an athlete in order to succeed in a rapidly evolving environment. Perhaps his acclimation may not be as quick when it comes to Double-A, Triple-A, or the Majors, but the fact is, he’s displayed the ability to acclimate.
Drafted in the 18th Round of 2019
D.D: What are your developmental goals right now looking forward into the 2021 season?
R.S: Just continuing to develop my offspeed pitches. My fastball velocity has ticked up every year of my life so far, so I’m just working to keep it there. I’ve been throwing hard and attacking the zone with my fastballs. I’m focused on developing my offspeed pitches. I’m pretty happy with where they’ve been this year, it’s been a big difference for me throwing the slider/curveball/changeup for strikes. Just gotta keep attacking with those while I get used to starting again. My first year in pro ball, I went back to the bullpen after starting throughout college. I’m getting used to going deeper into games and building my pitch count up again. It’s a different mentality between starting and pitching once every 5/6 days as opposed to coming out of the bullpen and not knowing whether you’re getting in. I’m mentally adjusting back to being a starter and building my pitch count while holding velocity throughout.
D.D: Do you see yourself trending as more of a starter or a reliever?
R.S: I wasn’t sure coming into this year what the plan was. I had started in college and after I was drafted I worked as a reliever with Orem in the Pioneer League. In Spring Training they wanted me to start, and personally I’m comfortable in any role, but for now they want me to be a starter. I might be a little undersized and not profile as the typical starter in body and build, but in terms of my pitch arsenal I play as a starter and that’s what matters.
D.D: So you see yourself as a fastball first kind of guy?
R.S: Definitely, I probably throw almost 60% fastballs. For an undersized lefty, my fastball gets on guys harder than they’re expecting. I throw harder than most guys my size. First time through the batting order, guys are surprised at the velocity. I definitely like to pitch tight with my fastball, get a lot of swings and misses up in the zone. High spin rate, high vertical route on my fastball. I definitely attack with the fastball. Being a starter is different, in the bullpen you can come out for an inning or two and show all your stuff. As a starter, going through the order the first time you want to throw fastballs and maybe a few offspeed pitches. Bring in a new pitch every time through the batting order and by the third time around I got all my pitches working.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
One thing that sets Smith apart from other pitchers in the minors is his rock-solid mentality and aggressive demeanor on the mound. Smith isn’t just looking for ways to work around a hitter, he’s is every bit as intense and methodical on the mound as it gets. Right now, his development can trend in either direction, towards reliever or starter, but regardless of whether he ends up in the ‘pen or in the rotation, he will be invaluable in pushing them over the top. Not just by his effort alone, of course, but the contributions he can bring to a tired pitching staff will be key to this team’s future. I’m not sure if the Angels need him more in the ‘pen or the rotation, but perhaps they can employ him as they do Chris Rodriguez and have him eat up 3+ innings out of the bullpen on a regular basis, which would serve both his development and the team’s needs.
This strategy could do wonders for the health and effectiveness of both the Angels’ bullpen and their starting rotation, much like the addition of Chris Rodriguez brought a sense of relief to entire pitching staff. Allowing Smith to work out of the bullpen is something that the team may look to do sooner rather than later, especially with the tired state of the staff. Of course you can’t rush development, but if Smith continues to utterly dominate as he has been, the best course of action would be to let him see Major League hitters in action and get a first-hand understanding of the ultimate level of competition. My bet is that we’ll see him get looks in 2021, even it’s at the very end of the year and even if it’s just for the sake of seeing a few MLB hitters first-hand .
With the state of the Angels, especially the pitching staff, if they want to cultivate any chance of success within the next half-decade, they’ll do what they can to ensure guys like Ryan Smith have all the tools and opportunities for growth at their disposal.
MLB ETA: 2021