Tomorrow it will have been seven years to the day that Bud Smith became the 18th rookie to throw a no-hitter in the major leagues. Once a hot prospect, the story of Bud is a sad and cautionary tale.
Bud was drafted out of high school in the 9th round by the Tigers in 1997. I don’t know if the Tigers drafted him with the intent of him hitting or pitching, because he actually had an accomplished hitting career at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, CA. Believe it or not, he broke some of Nomar Garciaparra’s old batting records. Rather then signing with Detroit, he attended Los Angeles Harbor Community College where he was used strictly as a pitcher, and he reentered the draft in 1998.
The Cardinals drafted him in the 4th round. He made a so-so pro debut for rookie level Johnson City as an 18 year old. He threw 64 innings, allowed 85 hits and posted a 65/34 K/BB ratio with 9 homers allowed. (4.59 FIP). If he were currently in the system having just come out of the draft, we’d probably be classifying him as a sleeper but not as a prospect quite yet.
In ’99 Bud started his season at low A Peoria. He threw 54 innings and allowed 17 ER on 53 hits with a 59/16 K/BB ratio to earn a mid-season promotion. He pressed on at advanced A Potomac, throwing an effective 103.1 innings in which he allowed 34 earned runs, 91 hits, and had a 93/32 K/BB ratio. If Bud were a prospect in our system now with those numbers, I think here at FR he’d be something of an unsung prospect. You just don’t see many teenagers dominate two levels of A ball, but somehow, he missed Baseball America’s top ten. Seriously, how were Luis Saturria, Luther Hackman and Chris Haas end up being ranked ahead of Smith? Maybe it was because Smith is short and didn’t throw all that hard?
As a 20 year old he began his season in AA Arkansas. He started 18 games, posted a 12-1 record with a 2.32 ERA and threw three complete games, two of which were seven inning no-hitters. He allowed 93 hits in 108.2 innings with a 8.45 K/9 rate and a sterling 2.67 FIP. He was promoted to AAA Memphis, where he continued to pitch well, posting a 2.15 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. If there was a cause for any concern his K/9 rate dropped to 5.63. His FIP in AAA was 3.73.
Smith won a bevvy of awards for his terrific season: He was named to the Baseball America First Team Minor League All-Star SP, St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year, Texas League Pitcher of the Year, Texas League All-Star, Double-A All-Star SP and AA Player of the Year. Baseball America ranked him the Cardinals #1 prospect, ahead of a fella by the name of Pujols. BA ranked him the 39th best prospect overall in the minors.
While Albert broke camp with the big club, Bud started the season back in AAA as a 21 year old. He ended up splitting time between Memphis and St. Louis. He allowed 114 hits in 108 innings for Memphis with a 78/28 K/BB ratio and was named a PCL All-Star. As a Cardinal, he threw 84.2 innings, allowed 79 hits with a 59/24 K/BB ratio. He finished 4th in the NL rookie of the year voting. That Pujols guy had the nerve to take home those honors.
The highlight of his season of course was the no hitter, which was historic as well as a little controversial. It took him a whopping 134 pitches finish the game, and much has been made about his pitch count and whether it led to his labrum tear later on. Bud only started 14 games in the majors and yet had the 41st highest PAP score (pitcher abuse points), the 11th highest maximum PAP in a single start, and the 14th highest average PAP.
He also could have been a victim of jumps in the amount of innings he threw from one season to the next. He went from 64 to throwing 160 the next two seasons, and then 190 combined between AAA and the majors during his rookie season. That also could be the source of his woes. Perhaps he could have done more to avoid that type of an injury through various exercises in the off-season, especially considering he already had less than an ideal body for a pitcher.
Anyway, the rest is history: The following season Smith was ineffective in the big leagues, but was sharp in six AAA starts. Jocketty was able to spin Smith as the key prospect in the trade for Scott Rolen, and Bud never threw an inning above AAA again. I have to wonder…did Jocketty suspect that Bud was damaged goods? I would like to think not, but he has never been a trading partner with the Phils or Ed Wade since. Perhaps the Mulder deal was some sort of karmic retribution against Walt.
Smith last professional season was spent throwing 25 innings for an independent league team in Long Beach. While it is a sad tale of a shooting star that disappeared into the night all too quickly, there’s a small population of men that can say they threw a no-hitter in major league baseball, let alone that they made the big leagues. I would not pity myself, not if I were him.
Smith threw an 86-89 MPH fastball and had an above average change-up and curve. While his fastball was rated as below average, his secondary stuff was solid and Smith was praised for his “pitchability” and poise more than anything else. He achieved results with impeccable control of his fastball which he used to set up his diving, deceptive change. He could throw his curveball for strikes and could throw it in any count. Bud’s weakness at times he relied too much on getting hitters to chase. Once big league batters learned to lay off pitches a couple of inches off the plate, he struggled.
For a current player, there’s no perfect comparison to Bud in the system right now, but Nick Additon is the closest facsimile. Additon has achieved some pretty outstanding results-117 K to 37 BB in 133.2 innings pitched and opponents are hitting only .211 against him over two levels-despite not having power stuff. Both are strike-throwing, fastball/curve/change lefty finessers, but Additon throws even slower then Smith. I guess that makes Additon “Bud Light.” We shall see if he can succeed above A ball.
(Ed. Note: I leaned on a few sources for their thoughts and memories of Bud. Thanks to those of you I asked, you know who you are.)