The Pirates are signing left-hander Caleb Smith to a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post (Twitter link). The Ballengee Group client had been non-tendered by the Diamondbacks at the start of the offseason.
Smith has spent the past two-plus seasons working as a swingman in the desert. Also a former Yankee and Marlin, the southpaw went from Miami to Arizona at the 2020 trade deadline in the deal that sent Starling Marte to Miami. He started three of four games for Arizona to close out the shortened season but worked primarily in long relief the next two years. Smith made 13 starts in 45 outings during the 2021 campaign and worked out of the bullpen for all but one of 44 appearances last summer.
In both years, the former 14th-round pick managed similar production. He allowed between four and five earned runs per nine innings in each, missing bats at a decent rate but struggling with both walks and home runs. Smith walked nearly 13% of opponents in each season with Arizona while allowing more than 1.5 home runs per nine.
That’s been a consistent theme throughout his big league career. Smith’s high-spin fastball generates a fair number of whiffs and infield pop-ups at the top of the strike zone, though that fly-ball approach has also translated into a decent number of round-trippers. Over parts of six big league campaigns, the 31-year-old has allowed 1.69 homers per nine en route to a 4.55 ERA.
Clubs have been continually intrigued by his ability to miss bats, however. He’s struck out just under a quarter of career opponents while generating swinging strikes on an above-average 12.2% of his offerings. Last year’s 21.5% strikeout rate represented a career low, though his swing-and-miss numbers on a per-pitch basis was right in line with his overall track record. The Pirates have one of the sport’s more favorable ballparks for pitchers, which could aid Smith in keeping the ball in the yard if he cracks the big league roster at any point.
Smith was diagnosed with a tear in the UCL of his throwing elbow last October. It wasn’t severe enough to necessitate Tommy John surgery, as he’s rehabbed the injury without going under the knife. The D-Backs didn’t provide any specifics on his recovery timetable, though the Pirates are sufficiently satisfied with the health of his elbow to bring him aboard.
Assuming he’s healthy enough to partake in Spring Training, Smith can battle for a bullpen job. Jarlín García is the only southpaw locked into the season-opening relief corps, though Rule 5 draftee Jose Hernandez will need to remain in the big league bullpen if the Pirates are intent on retaining his contractual rights.
Smith has been better against left-handed hitters than righties over the course of his career but not dramatically so. He profiles more as a long reliever or depth starter than as a situational matchup weapon. Smith has more than five years of MLB service time and can therefore refuse any minor league option, so if he cracks the MLB roster at any point, he’ll have to stick in the majors or be designated for assignment.
That’s pretty rockin for the Pirates. Wonder if they are thinking starter or reliever?
Depth option, nothing to make of this at this time. 3 young guys that includes Mitch Keller and then 2 veterans that includes Rich Hill are the starting 5. As for pen, might be a spot there but I doubt they will throw Smith in the pen when they have options within the system for the pen. Some guys are out of option years and need to be released or make the club by being in the pen.
I wouldn’t expect it but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the opening day roster as the second or third lefty in the bullpen. Pretty sure every guy going for a spot in the bullpen has options so it’s gonna be a shuffling act to see who sticks all season long. Assuming he doesn’t look absolutely terrible in Spring Training might as well start the season with the veteran getting the first chance to prove he belongs as there’s practically nothing invested in him and the kids hold more long term value to the franchise. Easier to cut bait with Smith than trying to pass younger guys with potential and loads of contractual control through waivers.
Most likely Reliever, specifically a long reliever.
Depth, he isn’t taking priority over the multitude of young starters they have, or the veterans they brought in. Best he might get is a low-leverage/long relief role.
My thoughts exactly,
Again depth option. If Rich Hill pitches like his age implies, Smith will be in AAA starting and will get the call. Even if there is a ton of younger options in the system, Smith will get the call.
Smith had a 3.15 ERA after April, so he wasn’t terrible, but I doubt they view him as a starting pitcher. He worked fine in a low-leverage/long-relief role. Personally, the only reason I’d see them priortizing him over let’s say Cody Bolton, is because he’s left-handed. I think Hill will be fine. He’s been a league average to above average arm the last few years despite a fastball that averages like 87-89 MPH. He uses his big curveball rather than any sort of outstanding fastball.
Agree. Bring back the downvote. Far too many stupid comments on here.
“wHy mY CoMmEnT gET DeLeTeD”
This is the prototypical Pirates signing. Wouldn’t be shocked if he pitches to a 3.50 ERA and gets dealt for a decent prospect at the deadline. They have nothing to lose by trying.
Backup Catcher to the Backup Catcher
Speaking of Smokey, the soundtrack this year at PNC Park will be “Tracks of My Tears”.
Just kidding. I actually think the Bucs can challenge for a playoff spot. The NL Central, save for the Cardinals, pretty much sucks.
Though actually making the playoffs might require a whole bunch of “Miracles”.
Track #5 of Dark Side of the Moon is the official PNC Park anthem.
For all involved.
A Great Gig in the Sky?
Looking at the roster, I’d say the anthem should be track 2 from Animals.
Their best song from their best album, actually.
All he could get is a minor league with the Pirates? What the..