Carolina notes: Smith still learning

Blue Rocks right-hander, 20, succeeding but not satisfied

Kyle Smith ranks third in the Carolina League with a 2.36 ERA. (Rinaldi Photos)

By Jeff Seidel / Special to | May 22, 2013 6:00 AM ET

Wilmington right-hander Kyle Smith isn't satisfied just yet. The 20-year-old has gotten off to a good start in his first Carolina League season, but he wants to gain more knowledge and improve as a pitcher.

Smith is 2-1 with a 2.36 ERA in eight starts with the Class A Advanced Blue Rocks. He's been one of the league's most consistent starters, already earning Pitcher of the Week honors last month. And while he's happy with all of that, he said there's more work to be done.

"I'm very excited and very proud of what I've done so far," Smith said. "I keep learning that I can't get complacent with what I've done so far. I've got to keep it going. I believe that's one of the biggest things -- you've got to keep learning."

Smith's numbers this season are impressive. He's struck out 45 batters while walking 17 over 42 innings, and opponents have a .217 average against him. Plus, he's registered at least seven strikeouts in five starts, despite not pitching beyond the sixth inning.

He's been building up throughout the starts. Smith struck out 29 over 19 1/3 innings in his first four outings but came out of that stretch with an 0-1 record. He's been working on different strategies, like how to pitch off his fastball -- using it to set up his other pitches.

"I'm still learning and you're always learning," Smith said. "If you think you've learned enough, you're wrong."

Even though Smith still considers himself a student of his craft, Blue Rocks manager Vance Wilson said the youngster certainly looks like he knows what's going on.

"He's very polished and very competitive," Wilson said. "He doesn't get a whole lot of good swings against him. The biggest [area] where he's grown is he doesn't always have his best stuff, but he always seems to go five or six innings ... and keeps us in the game."

The Royals picked Smith in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft and he's now their No. 15 prospect. Coming out of Santaluces High School in Lantana, Fla., he's a lifelong Florida fan who'd already committed to pitching for the Gators. But he changed his mind after he was drafted.

Smith has moved up quickly, starting with Rookie-level Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League last year. In his first start, he gave up one run on three hits in five innings, striking out 11, walking one and earning a promotion to Class A Kane County just days later.

Smith went 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 13 Midwest League starts. He moved up to the Carolina League this season and has been able to use his fastball, curve and changeup effectively on a regular basis.

Smith actually didn't start pitching consistently until eighth grade. His older brother was a catcher on the varsity team, where pitcher was the only spot available. He loved pitching with -- and to -- his brother, saying he learned so much from Cody.

That wound up being the first step on what Smith hopes is a long journey, one where he keeps learning every step of the way.

"Hopefully, I can keep it going," he said. "I'm extremely happy with where I'm at so far."

In brief

Big numbers: Myrtle Beach's Luis Sardinas did just what a leadoff hitter should in last Thursday's 12-3 rout of Winston-Salem. He went 4-for-5 with five RBIs and a run scored. Sardinas had two singles, a double and a triple along with a sacrifice fly and a stolen base.

Small ball: The Carolina Mudcats have the league's worst record, but they boast the top team batting average. They rank last in homers (16 through Monday's game) but first in hits (386) and second in doubles (90).

Keeping busy: Frederick left fielder John Ruettiger stayed busy in last Thursday's 11-7 win at Lynchburg. He went 3-for-5 (all singles) with an RBI, a run scored and two stolen bases to help the Keys.

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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