|Four Seam Images photo|
For those of us who follow the progress of prospects in the Blue Jays minor league system, last night was one we've been waiting two years for.
Lefthander Matt Smoral was taken with the 50th pick in the 2012 draft. A broken foot suffered before the draft and subsequent surgery cost him all of that season. The 6'9" Ohio native made his professional debut last year with the GCL Jays and had decidedly mixed results, posting a 7.01 ERA in 25.2 innings, walking 26 and striking out 27.
This year, Smoral stayed behind in Florida at extended spring training, and the few reports we received indicated that the lanky southpaw was starting to put things together. Last night, making his Appalachian League debut with Bluefield as the Jays visited Kingsport, Smoral was all but unhittable.
Smoral got off to a rocky start in the 1st inning. A leadoff walk, followed by a Bluefield error and a Smoral wild pitch put runners at 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Smoral regrouped, and struck out the next two batters, before walking the bases full. A third strikeout got him out of the inning.
Smoral settled down after that, exiting the game after the third inning, having reached his pitch limit. Eight of the nine outs Smoral recorded were by strikeout, and he gave up one hit. It certainly was the kind of performance the Jays had in mind when they gambled and took Smoral in the draft, when most other MLB teams were scared off by both his injury and a commitment to North Carolina.
Smoral told Mark Emery of Milb.com that he didn't have great command of his fastball last night, but he was locked in with his off-speed pitches, saying that all eight of his strikeouts came on his slider.
Last night was likely the kind of night the Blue Jays had envisioned. With shortstop Richard Urena and centrefielder Anthony Alford setting the table at the top of the order, the pair went a combined 6-8, and scored 5 runs, with Alford knocking in a pair of runs with a homerun in the sixth. Clean-up hitter Rowdy Tellez, with runners on base for a change, drove in 3 runs.
With his height, the comparison between Smoral and Randy Johnson are inevitable. Smoral comes more from the top with his delivery than the 300-game winner, although the early control issues are comparable. With his height, the ball appears to come at hitters in a hurry.
There are likely still to be some bumps in the road for the youngster, but the Blue Jays have to pleased with the report Bluefield Manager Dennis Holmberg would have filed last night.