2015 Statistics: 3.47 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 6.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 1.33 WHIP, 135 IP between Double-A and Triple-A
2015 Level/Roster Status: Double-A, Non-40
Caleb Smith is one of the more under the radar prospects in the Yankees system, but that is nothing new to the lefty out of Huntsville, Texas. In 2013, the Yankees selected Smith, a starting pitcher for Sam Houston State University, with their 14th round draft pick. According to a basic scouting report courtesy of MLB.com, he mixed a fastball and a changeup at the time of his selection, lacking a true breaking pitch and the type of command that would be exciting to scouts.
However, none of that stopped Smith from getting off to a very hot start. He dominated at Short-Season-A Staten Island in 2014 and posted very respectable numbers the next year at Low-A Charleston before finally hitting a wall in High-A Tampa. But despite a 4.81 ERA in Tampa, Smith managed to strike out a good amount of hitters while limiting walks and home runs, en route to a 3.21 FIP.
It was always easy to get excited about Smith because he struck out more than one batter per inning at every level below Tampa, then averaged 8.2 K/9 against High-A level hitters. In 2015, he started the season out at Double-A Trenton, but he experienced a drop in strikeouts while his walk rate spiked. He still kept hitters in the ballpark, managing a 3.38 ERA and a 3.89 FIP in Trenton. In addition to 24 starts at the Double-A level, he also made a spot start at Triple-A Scranton Wilkesbarre. Unfortunately, that start didn't go well, and Smith allowed three runs in just 4.1 innings of work.
Evaluating his 2015 performance is difficult because we don't truly know why he performed the way he did. A more highly-touted prospect will be placed under greater scrutiny, but we can't really tell what he was working on at Double-A this year. With a fastball and changeup in his repertoire when he was drafted, Smith is presumably working on a slider or curveball to get lefties, but we don't know how far his breaking ball has come.
With that in mind, it depends whether we want to look at Smith's performance from a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" perspective. If he is putting up a 3.38 ERA at Double-A with only two pitches, it would be very encouraging news. This would suggest that successfully adding a breaking ball would bring his strikeout rate back up and boost his ceiling going forward. However, there is always the chance that he never truly figures out how to throw a slider or curve and continues to struggle at Triple-A.
Still, his numbers were very impressive, hence the B+ grade for the season. What we do know for sure is that Caleb Smith is making himself harder and harder to ignore, so we might be able to get a comprehensive scouting report the next time someone evaluates the Yankees' farm system. For now, enjoy this video of Smith striking out a batter for the Trenton Thunder, as he showcases the ability to elevate his fastball and bury his changeup down and away: