The Los Angeles Angels drafted left-handed pitcher, Nate Smith in the eighth round of the 2013 draft out of Furman University and he made a quick start. He spent the rest of the 2013 season in the Pioneer League with Orem, where he pitched in 15 games, nine starts with a 3.86 ERA. That’s not bad considering that the Pioneer League is known for its hitters more than pitchers. In his 35 innings pitched he struck out 31 and walked just seven and allowed four long balls. That part of the season warranted him a spot on the Angels Top 20 prospect list for 2014.
His 2014 season was split between Inland Empire and Arkansas where he made a joint 21 starts. He made 10 starts to begin the season with Inland Empire, pitching to a 3.07 ERA. He averaged just over five innings per start striking out over eight batters per nine innings. In his 55 and two-thirds innings pitched he allowed just 41 hits and struck out 51. After 10 starts he was changing teams for the third time in a calendar year.
He was promoted to Double-A Arkansas to see how he would do there against some tougher competition. He made 11 starts with the Travelers and was better than he was at Rookie and Single-A ball. This time around he averaged just under six innings a start, striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings. He was getting better at striking out guys, but the one issue was the increase in walks. He saw his walk rate go up two walks per nine innings in the move from Single-A to Double-A.
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He stayed consistent with the amount of hits he allowed and was able to work out of innings and posted a 2.89 with the Travelers, the best of his young career with one team. After allowing four long balls for Orem, he allowed just six total in 2014 in 118 innings. He isn’t necessarily a ground ball pitcher, but he held opponents to a .210 combined average in 2014. That quick emergence earned him a spot on the Angels Arizona Fall League team where he hasn’t stopped performing.
The Arizona Fall League is known as the big step to take to know if you are ready for the next level. The best of the best are sent to the fall league and Smith hasn’t backed down one bit. In five starts with the Mesa Solar Sox, opponents are hitting .254 and he has an ERA under three at a crisp 2.95. He has pitched 18 innings and struck out 16, so we know he has an out pitch. The problem that seems to be lingering is the amount of free base runners he has allowed. He has walked three and a half per nine so far for the Solar Sox. But for Nate Smith this has been a fabulous 2014 campaign all-around and it needs recognition. He is on the fast track to the big leagues at just 23 and won’t turn 24 until August.
I expect him to take a leap in the prospect rankings when they are released later into the offseason, and possibly into the top 15. Smith isn’t an overpowering pitcher, but according to MLB.com he has an “advanced understanding” of how to pitch. Smith’s average arsenal means he won’t have much margin for error as he advances in the Minor Leagues. But his feel for his craft gives him a chance to reach the big leagues as a command-and-control lefty, according to MLB.com.