To say that Paul Smyth
's first experience in professional baseball has been a success would be an understatement. The former Kansas
closer and 2009 35th round pick by the Oakland A's has appeared in 24 games as a professional this season and has yet to allow a run. In 35.1 innings for the Vancouver Canadians and Kane County Cougars, Smyth has given up only 14 hits and four walks while striking out 43. He has also saved 10 games.
The Atascadero, California, native was a four-year player at Kansas and Smyth is second on the all-time Kansas save list. He has used that experience and an unusual side-arm throwing motion to dominate Northwest and Midwest League hitters. David Malamut spoke to Smyth this weekend about his experience in Vancouver and Kane County, his college career, the origins of his throwing motion, and more…
David Malamut: How does the arm feel?
Arm feels good; I didn't get an opportunity to throw all that much in college this last year. I had a little bump in the road due to injury, plus we had a stocked bullpen, so I didn't get the normal innings to throw, so I'm feeling pretty fresh right now.
DM: Growing up in California what was your first baseball experience?
Hitting wiffle balls in the backyard with my older brother Michael. That and just trying to learn how to play catch with my dad. We kind of asked him if we could start playing, my parents really didn't try to push it on us.
DM: Why did you go to Kansas University?
I think it was an issue of a couple of things. I knew the head coach, I played with his sons for a few years in high school on my summer team, and he had already taken a couple of players from that team already to go there, so it was a comfort thing to go there, and know the coach and know a few players. And when I went to the campus I fell in love with the environment.
DM: What did you learn from your experience at Kansas?
I think that playing in that conference and playing in such a competitive environment day in and day out, you just learn to basically play the game as hard as you can for nine innings. In college ball it's a lot different. You are playing to win every game. You play to win every game here, as well, but it's different when you play 60 games in a season compared to 140 games. When you have 60 you can stay more focused because you're not playing everyday, so you can focus your energy for every inning.
DM: How was closing in college?
It was great. It was an awesome experience. I had a great opportunity to learn my freshman year. We had the NCAA ‘Stopper of the Year' as a senior closer when I was a freshman and I would set him up and I think I learned as much from him as I did from anyone else in terms of focusing on taking one batter at a time. I think doing that for three years really helped me in any bullpen situation that I could get tossed into now.
DM: What is the difference in closing in college and the pros?
I don't think there really is a big difference. I think maybe in pro ball with the length of the season you become more emotionally detached as a pro ball player. This is my first run at it so I couldn't tell you an exact thing but I think in college it is a lot more emotional. You get caught up in a lot of things. You go over scouting reports for a week in advance before you even get to face a guy. In pro ball, it is my first time facing a lot of these guys. I think it has helped to kind of get out there and run with it.
DM: What did you learn while playing in Alaska during the summer of 2007?
It was a great experience. I loved Alaska. I had a great host family while I was out there. It was a good group of guys that I got to stay in good touch with and it's obviously considered one of the really good collegiate leagues. Anyone that plays there will tell you it is similar to pro ball. You are busing around -- I played in Peninsula so that is the farthest south -- so every trip we had to bus north. I think it kind of accustoms you to staying in not the best of motels and getting in a bus and going and playing that day. I think that prepares you for the kind of situation I'm in right now.
DM: Did you play in the Midnight Sun game?
No I didn't play in the Midnight Sun game. I did play up in Fairbanks at that field that has been around since the dawn of time.
DM: What did you learn from playing in Duluth, Minnesota, in 2006?
That was really my first experience of playing an entire league with wood bats. I played against wood bats in fall ball when I was in high school against junior college teams and things like that and also throwing every day. I had done that in high school but never in an actual league. It was just pick-up games against other summer teams. This being a league and busing and playing against wood bats, you get the first experience of similar to what we are in right now.
DM: What did you learn pitching-wise?
I think I don't know if it's something I learned. It was really stressed over there you have so many young pitchers which is the way the Northwoods League is that you learn to work the fastball in and get ahead of guys and especially with wood bats and especially there, and similar to what it is here, you get a lot of guys who are just getting used to using the wood bat and so they have the confidence of the metal bat approach and also they are swinging with wood and you can get in on them early in the count and break a few bats.
DM: What was it like playing for the Maxim Yankees in 2008?
It was great. They asked me to come on just for July because I was finishing up summer classes in June so i could graduate. It was a laid back team and Jack Gifford -- God rest his soul, he just passed away this fall -- he was just an awesome, awesome guy. He gave his heart and soul to that team. There was no upside for him except enjoying the game. As great of a guy as he was, he put everything in place for guys like me and older players to play for summer and have something to play for in the end of the summer in Wichita.
It was a great experience. I loved playing for that team. It is called the Horizon League. There are not that many teams in the league. We played the Santa Barbara Foresters, a well-known team around there, and against teams like the Yuba Sutter Sox. [A's 2009 fourth-round pick] Max Stassi
was playing on that team before he signed this year. It's kind of like teams up and down the Northern California area and around the coast.
DM: Do you think you benefited a lot from playing three years of summer ball in college?
Yeah definitely. As a pitcher you need your innings. It was always a great break from playing in what I felt was the best conference in baseball in the Big 12 with metal bats. I think I put together some really good summers and it is also great because you get away from playing with just your team at the University. I got to play with guys from my conference and guys from all over the country. When I was in Vancouver, I played against guys I played with and against on that team. You get to know guys from all around so it was a great experience.
DM: How was being scouted?
It was different at Kansas. A lot of times people are not there to watch you. They are there to watch the people you are playing against if you are playing against Texas or Oklahoma or you're playing against some first rounder and you're lucky to put together a good outing when they are around. I got one card from the guy that signed me and it turned out to be the most important card I ever filled out. It was a good experience but it wasn't too extensive for me.
DM: How was draft day?
Exciting. I didn't get picked up until the third day. I kind of figured it was going to be a late round thing in the situation I had been in. It was thrilling. I think anyone no matter what situation you are in, if you are the number one pick or whether you are the last pick, it is an exciting thing to get drafted and to have a team recognize that they want you to be in their organization and kind of join their company essentially. I was happy that I was picked up by the A's more than anything. I grew up watching the A's. It was kind of the closest ballpark to where I'm at even though it was three hours away. It was always a lot of fun. I know my dad was as excited as I was that I got picked up by kind of a local team.
DM: Did you get to go to the A's games when you were younger?
When I was younger those were the games that I got to go to. San Francisco was kind of equally close but their tickets were always more expensive than the A's. It was a big huge awesome ballpark to go to back when I was younger. We used to be able to watch guys like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco play there so it was always awesome to go and watch those games.
DM: What is your favorite memory from an A's game?
It probably isn't a very good A's memory, but I remember one of the games they were playing the Yankees and Darryl Strawberry came up to hit and I said, ‘I'll bet Strawberry goes yard here,' and Strawberry went yard on the next pitch. That wasn't that great for the A's but if I can remember that and I was that young I think it was pretty memorable.
DM: Where were you when you heard your name in the draft?
Laying in bed actually. I wasn't really informed by anyone from the A's. I was called by my head coach in college who wanted to congratulate me. I didn't want to sit by the computer. I had a draft experience last year where I was sitting by the computer waiting for my name to get called for two days and it was the most miserable two days of my life, not getting my name called after all the promises that had been made. I didn't want to put myself through that so I figured I'm going to try to think positive thoughts and try to get away from the game and I spent most of the day at the beach the day before not thinking about it. When it came around obviously it's been all baseball since then.
DM: What was your experience like in Vancouver?
It was awesome, one of the best baseball experiences I've had. The coaching staff there and the group of guys really made it. The guys I was working with, Lefty [pitching coach Craig Lefferts], Skip [Rick] Magnante, Casey [Myers, the hitting coach] and Sean [Doran], the strength coach, everyone there was unbelievably welcoming and the most supportive group of guys I've ever been around. Especially since all those guys have such extensive baseball backgrounds and to give that kind of credit and support to a rookie like me made it a home for me. My host family while I was out there was unbelievable. It was really one of the best baseball experiences I've ever had.
DM: How was being in another country?
It was different. You know the currency was different. That was probably one of the bigger things to get accustomed to was paying for things in Canadian money and their loonies and toonies and all that stuff, but it was great. Vancouver is an awesome, awesome, very diverse town and I appreciated that as much as anyone else. Going to a place where you get a different feeling, it's not just Old Town, USA. It's Vancouver. It's a worldly city. They are getting ready for their Olympic Winter Games there and you can just tell the town is very outreaching. Very probably one of the best towns in the world.
DM: Have you ever started a game?
I haven't started a game since I was a senior in high school. One time in college I threw the ninth inning of a game we had to pick up. We had a game cancelled that weekend and we had to play in the Metrodome at three in the morning on a Sunday after playing a doubleheader the night before starting at one AM. We didn't get through the ninth inning of the first game, so the following day we had to pick it up in the ninth. I was set to go the ninth, so I had my starting experience. I got the full stretch and all that stuff. That was as close as I've come to starting a game since high school.
DM: How was playing at the Metrodome?
It was awesome. It was empty. There was like 15 people there. You could hear some echoes when there are only 15 people there, but it was awesome. It was great that those guys let you use the field.
DM: How has Kane County been?
It has been awesome. I'm staying with the Drewes and Petey Paramore
is my roommate. Everyone here has been just as welcoming as in Vancouver. I think it really has to do with the organization. The people that they hire and the fact that they are dealing with a lot of young guys, guys for whom it's probably their first couple of years in pro ball, and the way that they have it set up here -- the crowd has been great, as has the organizational staff and everyone -- it has just been awesome. I've really enjoyed it. They have given me just as good of an opportunity as I had in Vancouver and I have really enjoyed it.
DM: How have you put your major of business marketing to work for you?
I think that what has kind of helped is that it's not even so much my major but just the fact that I got to spend four years in college at a good university. I feel like mentally I'm a little ahead of some of the younger guys that maybe didn't get to finish up their [college] career or maybe signed out of high school. Just in the sense that maybe I'm older and maybe the biggest thing is that I'm done with my [college] career.
I've finished my educational degree now, and I don't have another care in the world besides baseball. Really the fact that I don't have to worry about making class on time or worry about what classes I'm enrolling for in the fall, I can really just commit everything I can to playing baseball, so that has been the biggest thing right now.
DM: If you were not playing baseball what would you be doing?
Probaby getting my graduate degree and maybe getting into an MBA program which I obviously can't do until I'm done playing. I've also considered looking to some law school to study some contract law.
DM: Would you become an agent?
I would consider being an agent. I don't know if I would want to do it for baseball though. I think I might want to do it for something else. As much as I would like to be around the game and even if I could have the opportunity to stick around the game being an agent for baseball, I think I would like to be an agent for something else.
DM: What are your top 5 artists in your iPod?
Slightly Stupid, Sublime, Bob Marley, Outkast, Tupac. I listen to a lot of music, all kinds of music. Usually I'll mix in a lot of things from reggae to rap. It's kind of my style.
DM: How did you develop your throwing motion?
Probably at birth, I was probably born wrong. I've always thrown that way, people used to talk bad about my throwing motion when I was in little league. I'd have coaches telling me, ‘get your arm up, you need to get that arm up when you are throwing the ball, you are going to hurt your arm.' I think if anything, over my days I've kind of developed a reputation of being able to throw as often as anyone in terms of having a rubber arm. I guess I'm glad it didn't turn out being the other way and it ended up hurting my arm. It has felt good. It has just been that way that ever since I was born. I have always thrown from the side and I kind of plan on keeping it that way.
DM: What do you throw?
Fastball, slider and changeup. The slider is still a work in progress but it's getting a lot better.
DM: What do you ultimately want the pitches to do for you?
I guess everything I'm trying to get to sink as much as possible, whether it's the fastball, changeup or slider. If I get a fastball to sink and I get a guy to ground out, that is what I am looking for. I guess all of my pitches kind of circle around the ultimate goal of trying to get a three-hop ground ball to someone making an easy ground ball play and involve the infield and keep everyone on the same page.
DM: What is your out-pitch?
I'd like to say I strike people out with different pitches all of the time. I don't really have an out-pitch. I just throw whatever I think will work. I don't ever try to strike anyone out, to be honest. I was told a long time ago by a coach that scouting reports don't matter until you are ahead in the count. Ultimately my goal is to get ahead in the count but I would like the guy to ground out on the first or second pitch.
I guess when I get ahead in the count and I've picked up or I've been told that this guy struggles on the slider away, I'm going to throw the slider away. If I hear this guy struggles with keeping up with the fastball and I've got him ahead, I might try to throw the fastball. But it really just circles around what me and my catcher are feeling at that moment and kind of what the coaches tell me before, because a lot of times guys are hot on certain days and on other days they're not. I like to say I pitch more in the moment.
DM: What is your mentality on the mound?
Strike one, I guess, and then strike two. My dad is one of the ones who always reminded me that you are at your best when you just try to take things pitch-by-pitch because if you involve yourself and you think, ‘how am I going to strike this guy out?' at the start of the at-bat, I think you are kind of screwed from the get-go. You throw one pitch and as soon as that pitch is done, you focus on the next pitch.
DM: Have you ever played a different position?
Yeah actually. I didn't start pitching until I was 16. Before that I was catching and playing third. Really my arm slot is what stopped me from catching. I was a pretty decent hitter in high school and I was pretty good behind the dish physically and everything. My throw down to second was never the best.
Yeah, I caught all the way up through my senior year in high school. I was the best catcher and the best pitcher, then when I was a junior I was the second-best catcher and the second-best pitcher because our catcher ended up going on to catch at Fresno State
and winning himself a college world series.
DM: Do you think your catching experience has helped you with your pitching?
Yeah definitely. I loved catching pitchers who got strike one and got ahead of guys. Nothing pissed me off more as a catcher than guys who were working around the strike-zone and not being aggressive to guys. I think as a pitcher you keep that thing in mind and you got to know exactly what it is you are dealing with. You want to catch the kind of pitcher that you want to be. Essentially you have an idea of what you want to do as a catcher and you try to mimic that as a pitcher.
DM: Has that helped you in game-calling with the catcher?
I think some of the bigger things that I have noticed is sometimes the set-up of the batter. If you see a guy trying to cheat in a little bit and sometimes that is something that a catcher will pick up on and the coach will sometimes say to the catcher ‘if you see that guy creeping up and maybe the pitcher is not focusing on that you might want to bust him back in' and that is definitely something that I look at sometimes. Sometimes I see a guy cheating up to take away an off-speed pitch and I'll throw a fastball so I think that kind of helps me.
DM: When was the last time you hit?
The last time I had an at-bat was the summer right before my freshman year in college. Other than that just pitchers BP. I was pretty close when I was in Alaska because I was putting on a show in BP and my coach said, 'if these guys don't start hitting the ball, we are going to make you hit,' but then he said my coach would kill him if I got hurt. If they would give me a helmet and tell me to go up there I'm going to try to get a base-hit and try to knock it out of the park, but no guarantees because I haven't had one in four years.
When former Chicago White Sox reliever Shingo Takatsu was pitching in Japan, he earned the nickname "Mr. Zero" for being the most dominant closer in JPL history. Kane County reliever Paul Smyth could have earned the same nickname with Vancouver this season, as he set a team record for most scoreless innings to start a career. David Malamut caught-up with Smyth this weekend…
David Malamut spoke with A's 35th round pick Paul Smyth, who has had a terrific first season.