Rays News

Burch Smith Heads To Minors With More Secure Spot With Rays

By Robbie Knopf

Unless the Tampa Bay Rays suffer another injury, Burch Smith is not going to be in their Opening Day rotation. The Rays sent him down to minor league camp while pitchers like Matt Andriese and Everett Teaford stuck around. When we consider how good Smith looked before his most recent outing, that was pretty strange.

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Nate Karns has been the best of the unproven pitchers in Rays camp, showing off a promising fastball-curveball combination. Smith is the only pitcher that has come close. His fastball was not touching the upper-90’s like it once did with the San Diego Padres, but his command of it was strong for the most part as he forced quite a few groundballs. His changeup, meanwhile, flashed effectiveness against batters of both sides and showed signs of being an put-away pitch for him.

Of course, there are reasons that Burch Smith was sent down to the minor leagues. He tossed just 5 regular-season innings last year as he missed nearly the entire season because of a forearm strain, and the Rays will be careful with him as he gets back to a regular schedule. He returned in time for the Arizona Fall League and he didn’t require a surgery of any kind, but he still has something to gain starting his first full year back slowly.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Smith got into a game or two with the Rays early in the season with the Rays’ pitching staff in flux. Of all the team’s Triple-A starters, though, he is the one who most needs a full season at the level. Beyond the injuries, he has just 66 innings at Triple-A and could use more time there to work on his third pitch, a slider.

The Rays see Burch Smith as a talented pitcher and one capable of contributing to their bullpen now. However, especially once their injured starters return, they have plenty of keep him in the minors and see if he can become an impact starting pitcher in his own right. The Rays have always developed their starting pitchers slowly, and the fact that Burch logged some big league time with the Padres wasn’t enough for them to deviate from that.

This spring, Smith showed everyone why the Rays wanted to acquire him in the Wil Myers trade and why they will be patient as they give him a chance to reach his upside. They knew that a pitcher like Smith had more value in their system than in those of other teams because they had the depth to give him additional time to develop at Triple-A.

We are all aware that the Rays’ starting depth has since come apart, and the temptation was there for the Rays to scrap that plan. They could have started Burch Smith in their rotation despite his health and breaking ball questions or they could have utilized him in long relief. In this case, however, the Rays sending Smith to the minors tells us how much they think of him. His future with the team has never looked brighter.

Next: Spring Game 18: Everett Teaford States Case for Rays Roster