Over the past two seasons, Norichika Aoki has been one of the consistent bright spots and a fan favorite for the Milwaukee Brewers. The return of Ryan Braun from his suspension this year creates a logjam at the outfield position so the Brewers decided to trade Aoki to the Kansas City Royals this offseason to make room for their emerging 26-year-old slugging prospect, Khris Davis. Many would expect the Brewers to receive a pretty piece in return for Aoki. So who exactly was on the other end of the Aoki trade?
The Brewers got a Major League ready lefty pitcher by the name of Will Smith — and yes, the Fresh Prince jokes are already old. Smith on the other hand is not old. The 24-year-old stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 250-pounds. He presents a fastball that consistently sits in the 90-93 mph range with great downhill action. Smith likes to get ahead with a well-located fastball and uses his off-speed to generate his increasing strikeout totals. He has a terrific slider and likes to manipulate the plane it breaks on making it devastating for lefties. So does this make him a lefty specialist coming out of the bullpen? Not so fast.
The Brewers have made it clear they intend to give Smith an opportunity to earn a spot in the starting rotation, and they should. He has shown the ability to get right-handed hitters out by burying his slider to the back foot of the hitter and by also displaying a vastly improving change-up. If Smith continues to keep the great downhill action on his fastball, he will see early ground ball outs helping preserve his pitch count to work deep into games. It seems there is too much to like with Smith to keep him limited to a bullpen role. Smith’s pitching repertoire consists of a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, a slider that he can alter the spin and break plane specific to the hitter he’s facing which may resemble a curveball at times and he also has a change-up that is vital in keeping right-handed hitters off-balance.
With this repertoire and potential, look for Smith to make a serious run at cracking the 2014 starting rotation. The Brewers are looking for a lefty to step up and anchor down a spot in the middle of that rotation, and Smith could be that guy. The Brewers control him for the next six years, and it is already looking like another sneaky good move by GM Doug Melvin, provided Smith continues to advance and develop on the same path he’s been on.