Smith unfazed by hiccup

B-Mets' Smith unfazed by hiccup

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The numbers suggest that Joe Smith struggled with the big leap he made in 2006. The numbers, however, are wrong.

Oh, sure, the Wright State product had a bit of a hiccup after moving up from the short-season New York-Penn League to Binghamton of the Double-A Eastern League. But that one rough week at the end of August was all it took to skew what turned out to be a brilliant rookie season after the Mets selected him with the 94th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.

Smith appeared in 10 games for the B-Mets, going 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA in 10 games (12 2/3 innings). Both of those losses came during a five-day stretch, during which he surrendered seven earned runs over two innings. Prior to his stumbling a bit down the stretch, he had allowed only one run in his previous nine innings with Binghamton, then finished the season by throwing 1 1/3 scoreless frames against Portland.

All this after recording nine saves and a 0.45 ERA in 17 games for Brooklyn. Smith was the New York-Penn League's most dominant reliever, holding opponents to a .141 batting average while striking out 28 in 17 1/3 innings. It was that success that prompted the Mets to move him over Class A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League and Class A Advanced St. Lucie of the Florida State League directly to Double-A in the first place.

So don't worry about the numbers. The Mets certainly aren't, and neither is Smith, who will find out in the next week whether the club plans on inviting him to Major League Spring Training.

"I hit a rough patch," he said. "I went through a phase. But I got myself out of it before they shut me down for the season. I was a little tired with the number of innings I had pitched [87 2/3, including his time at Wright State]. Hopefully, this year will be smoother.

"It's been exciting, though, quite a ride. That's the best way to explain it. Some of the guys at Double-A have been around awhile and they helped me out a lot. The first day there I had some nerves, but you have to get over that. Where I start this year, though, is up to management. Wherever they want me to be is where I'll be."

Smith is a side-armed pitcher, but unlike many other side-armers, he has some life in his fastball, which regularly clocks in the low 90s. He has a plus-slider and a big-time changeup, as well, all of which make him particularly effective against right-handed hitters. Right-handers hit .104 (7-for-67) against him, a mark that includes a .080 average (2-for-25) while he was at Binghamton.

The Mets are hoping he will continue to improve on his changeup, which they feel would ultimately help him more against left-handed hitters. Smith held lefties to a .179 average with Brooklyn but allowed them to hit .500 (10-for-20) after the promotion.

"He's a tough kid with a very good makeup," said Rick Waits, the club's roving pitching instructor. "Like a lot of young guys, you find out something about a guy after the short-season [following college]. But you really find something out after his first full year, so we'll see what happens. But everything I saw from him last year, I really liked."

Smith was scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, but the Mets told him to just go home and rest. And that's what he's been doing prior to arriving Wednesday at the club's annual mini-camp in St. Lucie. He went through drills and workouts with several of the Mets' other pitching prospects, including last year's top pick, Kevin Mulvey.

The mini-camp runs through Friday. Smith will return to his Cincinnati home afterwards but will be back in Florida next month, armed with the experience he gained at Double-A. The numbers he posted may not suggest he had success in the Eastern League, but he most certainly did, and it will be interesting to see how that success impacts his performance once Spring Training begins.

Notes: The Mets announced that Tim Teufel will be the manager at Savannah of the Class A South Atlantic League. Teufel managed the Mets' Florida State League affiliate in 2004 and 2005 before taking last season off. He also managed the Brooklyn Cyclones to a divisional crown during the 2003 New York-Penn League season. The club also confirmed that Edgar Alfonzo, who guided the Cyclones to a championship in 2001, will return as the skipper in 2007.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.