In just his first five outings on the pitcher’s mound, Josh Smoker has made a positive impression on Binghamton baseball fans. Smoker, a first round 2007 draft pick of the Washington Nationals, used 11 pitches, 8 of them strikes, and a healthy dose of high heat to retire the three batters in order in his B-Met debut.
The fireballing left-hander pitched a scoreless inning of work in his next three B-Met appearances before being touched up for his first run allowed Sunday against Trenton.
Smoker, 26, pitched for both Savannah and St. Lucie this spring dominating Florida Coast League batters with a 1.69 ERA and a 0.844 WHIP in 14 relief appearances. The fireballing left hander struck out 26 FCL batters in 21 innings of work.
So, what’s the story with Josh Smoker. Smoker has experienced the thrills and downturns that baseball can present to even the most promising prospects. Signed out of high school from Calhoun, Georgia, as a supplemental first round pick, Smoker entered professional baseball with a left arm destined to see him reach the major leagues.
However, two arm injuries later, Smoker was reeling when the Nationals gave up on him. With no professional baseball affiliation Smoker’s baseball career was on hold.
But, Smoker loved the game and was not willing to abandon his chances to play until he had exhausted every opportunity to make a return to the game. He swallowed his pride and attended showcase events targeting high school aged pitching prospects, and last season signed to play baseball for the Rockford Aviators of the Independent Frontier League.
It was that experience that proved to be a turning point for Smoker. During his stay in Rockford, he was able to tuck away all the disappointments, all the pressure, and rediscover the fun that comes with just playing baseball.
“The guys on the team at Rockford were hands on the best group of guys I ever played with, no egos, no cliques. Baseball became a game again,” Smoker told a reporter from Jupiter, Florida.
Smoker’s time pitching for Rockford was a turning point of sorts, in particular his work with Aviator manager James Frisbee. The B-Met pitcher credits Frisbee for helping to save his career, crediting him with keeping baseball fun and helping to reshape his mindset about his place in the game.
As for Frisbee, he couldn’t be more thrilled that Smoker used Rockford and the Frontier League to restart his baseball career. “Josh worked really hard to not only get back his health but his confidence as well, and I’m happy he’s getting the chance to get back into affiliated ball.”
The Frontier League is a pipeline of sorts for long shot baseball opportunity as Frisbee noted that 50 players who played in the Frontier League in 2014 were signed on professional baseball rosters alone one year later, including 6 from his Aviators. “I feel as an organization, we are doing what’s right for our kids. My number one priority is to get these guys to the next level and hopefully someday to the Majors,” Frisbee explained.
At first glance, Smoker’s build and power fast ball remind you a lot of Josh Edgin. Smoker relies heavily on his fastball, a pitch I saw clocked as high as 99 mph in the three times I have seen him work. Smoker includes off-speed pitches in his tool kit but their effectiveness is connected with his ability to command his hammer. So far in Binghamton, Smoker has harnessed the power of his humber one pitch fanning 7 without walking a batter in his 5 innings of relief.
The Josh Smoker story is a great story, and unfinished story at that. Here’s hoping Josh Smoker can write a script that sees him continue to have fun and thrive on the pitching mound all the way to Citi Field for the Mets.