On Saturday night, I did something I’ve never done before. I made the drive to Rancho Cucamonga specifically to watch one player. The Quakes had clinched a playoff berth the night before and I was planning on seeing their “B lineup” on the scorecard. Sure enough, two prospects worth keeping an eye on were sitting for the game. League M.V.P. D.J. Peters was on the bench, as well as 19 year old infielder Omar Estevez. But they were not the players I went to see; I went to see Devin Smeltzer, and although he is not a household name, he is definitely someone that I (and you) should be watching out for.
Smeltzer’s story is unique in many ways for this Dodgers’ system. Not only is he one of the few left-handed pitching prospects of note in the Dodgers’ minor league system, but he is also a cancer survivor. When Smeltzer was 9 years old, he was diagnosed with pelvic rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that formed between his bladder and prostate. In 2012, after an eight year battle, the cancer was declared to be in full remission.
The 21 year old Smeltzer was able to pitch at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas, and he was taken by the Dodgers in the 5th round of the 2016 draft. Smeltzer made 11 appearances in the Arizona Rookie League last year but 2017 was his first year of full season ball. He started the year in Great Lakes and put up numbers worthy enough for a callup to High A ball in Rancho. Throughout the year, Smeltzer has put up solid numbers, striking out more than 5 times the number of batters he has walked, while allowing a 1.24 WHIP. He has allowed just four home runs in over 142 innings pitched.
The night started a little shaky for Smeltzer as he walked the first batter. A wild pitch, R.B.I. single and walk followed, but he was able to get two ground balls to finish the inning, one of them resulting in a double play. The first inning proved to be an aberration as Smeltzer settled down and turned in a nice performance. Only a few balls were hit hard as batters were having a hard time squaring the ball up against him. His fastball consistently sat in the 89-92 mph range with a changeup that was clocked at 80 mph. The pitch that really impressed me was a big sweeping slider that was clocked anywhere from 84-87 mph. Smeltzer was able to keep batters off balance with a cross body delivery reminiscent of Chris Sale or Jake Arrieta.
Smeltzer: 7IP, 6H, 3R, 2ER, 2BB, 6K.
— Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (@RCQuakes) September 3, 2017
He is still a few years off, but Smeltzer is making quick progression through the Dodgers’ minor league system. He is not the type of pitcher that is going to overpower hitters, but he shows a solid knack for pitching that will allow him to climb the ranks of the minor leagues. And for a guy that has already beaten cancer, working his way through the minors should be a walk in the park.
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