AL WestAnalysis

Angels Prospect Ryan Smith finding success after developing new pitch

Ryan Smith's new cutter brings him closer to Majors

Angels pitching prospect Ryan Smith is quickly making his way up the rankings of the Angels organization after receiving a call up from Low A to High A last month thanks to a 5 start streak in Low A, which included a 13 K affair that came across a 6 IP start. Smith proved his ability in his time with the Inland Empire 66ers after throwing 27.2 innings while amassing a total of 44 strikeouts on just seven walks in that time and now he’s done the same in High A. Surprising no one, his callup to High A came rather quickly, and continuing to surprise no one, Ryan Smith has performed graciously at the higher level. Not only is he carrying over the positives of what he did with the 66ers, he’s also inventing new ways to corral success into his corner as he continues his path to the Majors.

Ryan Smith is the kind of pitcher who can provide great value for the Angels quickly, and could very well see some time with the big league club this year if all continues as is. Even if he spends the rest of the season developing in the Minors, there is a great chance that 2022 will see him provide value to the Big League Angels. I’ve mentioned in my previous Ryan Smith article, he can provide some Chris Rodriguez-type value to the club as a multi-inning reliever while he gets his feet wet at the big league level. It should be noted that Smith is being developed as a starter but that won’t stop the Angels from getting him Big League action if they see that he can provide consistent relief innings as Rodriguez has for the Angels.

Ryan Smith #17

Tri City Dust Devils (High A)

Diamond Digest: I wanted to ask about your recent call-up, what was it like getting the call from Low A to High A as early in the season as you did?

Ryan Smith: It was something I’ve been working towards, hoping for, and it was exciting. It was my first time experiencing that feeling in pro ball. I spent my first season in Orem [short season] so this is my first time having a mid-season promotion. It’s really cool getting called up and getting to celebrate that with the guys in the locker room. Definitely a good feeling, it was something I was hoping would happen at some point this season. It happened after 5 outings I think. It was a good feeling

D.D: What are the coaches in High A having you focus on in terms of development compared to what the coaches in Low A wanted you to focus on?

Smith: There’s not a ton different, there’s not a specific thing I can think about off the top of my head. I think more so than anything the biggest difference tends to be the closer you get to the bigs the more you learn the gameday routine: how to approach lineups, how to watch videos of hitters, how to study spray charts to build an approach to pitching as opposed to a slight move away from pitch development. Although, I did just develop a new pitch so that kind of contradicts myself [laughs]. In the lower levels, it’s more about developing your pitches, developing your strikes cause when you move up it becomes less about your stuff since everybody has stuff. The higher and higher you go it becomes more about learning how to use your stuff and how to approach the game.

D.D: Where do you see your development trending towards season’s end? Where do you see yourself in terms of level?[Double A/Triple A/MLB]

Smith: I try not to think about that stuff too much, that’s in the hands of the organization. It would be awesome to move again, but also I have to enjoy my time here. Wherever the organization wants me is where I’ll end up. I’ve had success here (High A), I’m looking to continue having success here and if I move that would be awesome, but if I don’t get that call-up, I’m going to continue putting up as many good outings as I can here in High A regardless. Just work to improve every outing and be the best pitcher I can be. I’ve been throwing a lot of strikes, the less guys you walk, the more valuable you’ll be. I’m just gonna keep my walk numbers down and keep my strikeout numbers as high as I can and things will work themselves out.

Ryan Smith

Low A Stats [27.2 IP 44Ks 7BBs]

One thing that surprises regarding Ryan Smith, is how he constantly finds new ways to grow and develop in relation to the growing difficulties of the game the higher up the rankings you find yourself. After making his way to High A, Smith did something that many growing pitchers try to do but often fail or miss the mark. Smith was able to add a brand new pitch into his repertoire, a cutter that hits at 88mph, and employ it quite effectively. What really inspires with this development is not just the simple fact that Smith has a new pitch, rather it is how he has used this pitch to improve his ability to throw everything else. Prior to the cutter coming into his life, Smith liked to play with the fastball/curveball/slider combo to fool hitters, but to him, there was something missing. A little bit of a gap, if you will, between his fastball and his offspeed, namely his slider.

The addition of the cutter has filled that gap by allowing Smith to use it as a velocity bridge between his slider and fastball, which in turn adds a new world of depth to his pitching ability as he now has something of an “in-between” to play with the way he keeps hitters off-balance. Filling that middle ground has allowed him to add a new sense of deception when it comes to throwing off hitters’ timing and that added dynamic is sure to play in a big way when it comes to Smith’s eventual MLB outings. So far, it’s allowed him to keep hitters off-balance in big ways and as long he continues to evolve his ability to mix in the cutter and keep hitters fooled, there is no ceiling to how good the talented left-hander can be. This expansion of his repertoire has added a new sense of consistency to his approach as Smith has not walked more than a single batter in all of his High A outings so far, with his last start seeing him walk zero across 5 innings of work.

Ryan Smith

High A [36 IP 41Ks 5 BBs]

D.D: Where do you see your development changing from your first day as a 66er to your last day?

Smith: Some of it was just getting my feet wet in pro ball as a starter. I had a head start in college but it’s a little bit different in pro ball. I think I really needed to just see what it would be like in pro-ball, see how I would use my pitches, see how I would attack the lineups differently. Some of it was learning how to attack with my fastball early and try to save a certain pitch for later in the lineup. As a reliever you kinda throw all your pitches out there in your first inning of work, cause you may only have one or two innings to work. It was more so learning from my first few Low A outings to my last few Low A outings. As a starter you think maybe I can get by just using my fastballs to start the game, the 2nd/3rd inning I can come out with my breaking balls and go fastball-slider. From there the 2nd time around the order I could bring out my changeup. I think that makes it a little easier to pitch when you don’t show all your stuff to guys the first time around the order. That was a big part of my development down there (Low A).

D.D: How has all of that transitioned when facing High A hitters?

Smith: I think I got it down early. Every level you move up there’s gonna be an adjustment. I think the adjustments here focus on hitters having a slightly different approach and are more looking for fastballs early in the count. I tend to throw a lot of fastballs early in the count but so far it still works for me, I have a lot of success throwing fastballs early on. If you’re gonna get beat, it’s when guys are hunting a certain pitch, it’s about learning to adjust to certain guys’ approach at the plate. What their weaknesses are while attacking with your strengths. My last couple outings here, I started throwing a cutter a little bit, I developed a new pitch mid-season on the fly cause I thought that would help me in terms of attacking hitters around here. Every outing is its own little adventure in terms of every lineup being different, each team is different in the way they approach the plate. I don’t think there’s too big of a difference between levels, hitters just have more experience.

D.D: It’s pretty fascinating that you developed a cutter mid-season. Can you tell me how that came about and how you’re feeling with that pitch right now?

Smith: I have always thrown curveball/slider and my slider has been good. The metrics are good on it, it’s been a pretty good pitch for me this year. It’s has a lot of movement and it’s at a slower velocity than a typical slider maybe. It’s at about 80-83 mph with horizontal break. It works a lot as a pitch for me but I thought if I could have that and maybe a pitch in the middle to bridge to my fastball, have something closer to the upper 80s, I would be in better shape. My fastball has a big velocity difference from my slider. I figured why not try it out, I was messing around with it in the bullpen one day and my pitching coach Doug Henry said “Oh, why don’t you try this grip out? Your slider grip is a little different so you can kind of use this [grip] as a cutter grip”. I started throwing it and it felt pretty good throwing it my first day in the bullpen. I wasn’t planning on using it in my next outing but I mixed it in a few times three outings ago. It went pretty well. I got a couple swings and misses, a groundout, a pop-up, and was throwing em for strikes.

My next outing, my fastball command was hit or miss through a few innings, I was getting frustrated with myself missing some spots. I came into the dugout after the 5th inning and told our catcher Keinner Piña, “Hey, right now the cutters working, it’s got a few swings and misses. They don’t really know I have it so let’s just go with it until they get a hit, let’s just throw it.” I threw it in the 6th and 7th inning of that matchup, I threw about 21-22 cutters in a row. Had two 1-2-3 innings, got a fast strikeout and a pop-out. It worked pretty well, I threw like 2 balls and 20 strikes. After that, I thought “this pitch is working pretty well” so I used it in my last outing as well and it went pretty well. It’s gone from me messing around with it in the bullpen two weeks ago to being one of my better pitches. I think I should have started throwing it earlier [laughs].

Ryan Smith #17

LHP for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

All in all, what we’re seeing is Ryan Smith working outside the box when it comes to finding new ways to get an edge on the competition. It’s an exciting development not just for the material reasons of him finding success with a new pitch, but also for the insight into the mental efforts Smith is putting into his climb to the Major Leagues. The journey to the top can only be made when you stop trying to find ways to be better than everyone else and start looking for ways to be better than yourself. Ryan Smith is the kind of guy who will always look to top himself, and because of that I have no doubt in my mind Smith will be a major contributor to the Big League Angels when he finally makes his way to the top of the mountain whether it be this year or the next.

Ryan Falla

Ryan began his work covering the Angels in 2011 for Monkey With A Halo before moving on the Halo Hangout where he began covering the Minor League Inland Empire 66ers, working with athletes such as Jared Walsh and Patrick Sandoval. In 2019 Ryan was credited by the Athletic for being the first to report on the Patrick Sandoval call-up, this news break being possible thanks to an inside source who gave Ryan the break on the story. In addition to writing with Diamond Digest, Ryan Falla also covers the Dodgers Low A team, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, for Dodgers2080

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