Will Smith headed to Milwaukee, National League following trade
by Chris Goltermann
For the second time in his short professional baseball career, Newnan native Will Smith is changing one major-league organization for another.
This time, however, the 6-foot-5 southpaw is changing leagues as well.
Smith, who first became an ace pitcher at Northgate High School, was traded on Thursday as part of a one-for-one swap between the Kansas City Royals and the Milwaukee Brewers which will land him with a National League franchise for the first time since being selected in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
It also puts him that much closer to starting in Turner Field when the Brewers make visits to Atlanta. That's even better considering 'mom doesn't like to fly,' according to Smith.
'I'm excited about it,'he added from a Thursday afternoon conference call. 'It's not that the Royals didn't want me. It's just that Milwaukee wants me more. I'd like to think it's a good move.'
The vote of confidence in the 24-year-old left-hander from Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was enough to warrant sending 32-year-old outfielder Norichia Aoki back to Kansas City as the other half of Thursday's trade.
It gave the Royals the potential leadoff hitter they desired in the offseason in exchange for Smith, who made tremendous strides in his second year in the major leagues in 2013 despite being asked to switch from his previous role as a starter to the bullpen.
'Will Smith is someone we have liked for a couple of years now,' Melvin said in a statement. 'We had the chance to acquire a 24-year-old big physical left-hander who we feel can be a part of our staff. We could not walk away from the opportunity.'
Melvin may have seen as much potential in Smith as the Royals did in Aoki considering Milwaukee only had one left-handed pitcher on its roster last season.
After starting the year at Triple-A Omaha as a starter and making the first of seven trips to Kansas City to open a doubleheader at Cleveland on April 23, he transitioned to a relief role. He made his final return to the majors in late August and put together one of his best stretches of the season while finishing with a 2-1 record and a 3.24 ERA in 33 1/3 innings pitched.
One of his return trips from Omaha to Kansas City began with a relief appearance against Atlanta at Kauffman Stadium, having grown up a fan of the Braves and pitchers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Smith's statistics in 2013 also included 43 strikeouts to just seven walks. His highlights included a 4 1/2 inning appearance in a comeback win over Seattle, where he struck out eight and allowed just one hit on a bloop single. It came during a stretch where the lefty allowed one earned run over 11 appearances between Aug. 6 through Sept. 18.
Adding to a fastball that averaged 91 mph last year, Smith improved the usage of his slider while throwing less curveballs and very few changeups compared to his rookie season.
'Out of the bullpen, it boiled down to 'I need to get this guy out ... now,' ' Smith told the media on Thursday. 'That's why I kind of got more confidence in my slider, 'I can't leave this hanging, I've got to throw it.' It turned into being a good pitch for me.'
Melvin has already informed Smith to be ready to be prepared to compete for a spot in the Milwaukee rotation.
'I'm excited to get a shot back at the rotation,' Smith said. 'I've always enjoyed starting; I've done it basically my whole career. The fact that they are going to give me a shot at the rotation, I'm very excited for it.'
Shortly following the 2013 season, Smith reiterated to the Times-Herald that 'playing in the major leagues' is the long-term goal regardless of his role on the pitching roster, even after seeing his Omaha teammates capture both Pacific League and Triple-A championships.
'If I have a uniform on and I'm in the big leagues I'll be happy,' he told reporters Thursday. 'As long as we're winning, everybody will be happy.'
Closer to home, the news of the trade may have brought joy to parents Charles and Kay Smith, knowing their son will only be a short drive from home when Milwaukee comes to Atlanta from May 19-22 when the Braves will host a four-game series.
Ironically, Atlanta opens the season at Milwaukee starting March 31 for the first of three games at Miller Park.
'The fact Milwaukee comes to Atlanta, that's a good feeling to have your mom and dad sitting in the stands,' Smith told reporters. 'My sister [Charlsie] can come, too, so I'm excited about that part.'