PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — In college baseball, teams usually play three games a weekend with mid-week tilts peppered in throughout the season. They practice throughout the week because, unlike in professional baseball, games do not occur almost every day.
This means left-hander Kevin Smith’s routine between starts was chosen for him. He did what his head coach and pitching coach planned and did not have much of a choice otherwise.
Because of this, much of Smith’s young pro career has been dedicated to feeling out the time between starts and forming a routine — his routine. He’s learned to navigate a five-day rotation instead of the college schedule’s seven-day rotation.
“It’s just figuring out the best recovery and when to throw a bullpen, what to focus on between each outing to focus on the next outing,” said the 6-foot-5 Smith, who is 22 years old.
Here is what his routine looks like now …
Start Day: Smith pitches the game.
Day 2: Light throwing and heavy recovery for the body
Day 3: Throwing with more intensity and for a longer time
Day 4: Throwing a bullpen and working out
Day 5: This is the day before the start. It contains light throwing and spinning some pitches
Start Day: Smith pitches again.
When Smith was in High-A St. Lucie last season, Ricky Bones helped him tinker with his routine. The organization soon promoted Bones to be the big-league club’s bullpen coach, so Mike Cather, St. Lucie’s pitching coach, helped Smith. But Smith did most of it on his own, he said, because “only I know what I need.”
Smith’s first full professional season brought encouraging results. In 17 starts in High A, he pitched to a 3.05 ERA. Then he notched a 3.45 ERA in six starts for Double-A Binghamton. These are impressive considering he had a 3.69 ERA as a college junior at the University of Georgia before the Mets drafted him in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
“It was more just reading hitters and going through games,” Smith said of what he learned last year. “That was the first time I really started for an entire season. I learned a lot with the starting role about how to use all of your pitches throughout an entire game. That really helped me out a lot.”
According to MLB Pipeline, Smith is the Mets’ No. 11 prospect. David Peterson (No. 7) is the only lefty ahead of Smith. In total, four pitchers are ranked higher than Smith.
The Mets are treating Smith like a starting pitcher, but he also came out of the bullpen in college. He said he’s fine with whatever the organization wants him to do because he enjoys aspects of both.
“I like starting because you have a game plan on the hitters because you see them two or three times a game so you know what they’re looking for,” Smith said. “Then relieving, it’s just you’re in there for one to two or three innings. You just go in there and just compete.”
Over the last year, Smith has focused on using his lower half and staying linear to the plate. It helps him command his pitches much better. He’s comfortable with it now and does not think about it when he pitches.
Smith said the Mets told him he had a “good development year last year.” They said he could work his way up the system this season. His personal goals for 2020: a sub-3.00 ERA, more strikeouts than innings pitched, decrease his walks and go deeper into games.
This spring has not been anything unexpected for Smith. He’s been finding a rhythm and getting back to a competitive mindset. He’s learned a lot.
It’s too early to tell when he could be MLB-ready. His progress has been encouraging, though, and he remains a name to watch going forward.
“That is a long-term goal, but I don’t really think about it because it doesn’t do much for me to think about it. Because it doesn’t do much for me to think way down the road," Smith said. "It could be soon or it could be a year or two. I don’t know. I just focus on the next outing because if I keep throwing good, good things will happen.”