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Orioles prospect season in review: Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith

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Young starting pitching will make or break the current Orioles rebuild, so the development of guys like Bradish and Smith is of the utmost importance.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

If this whole rebuild thing is going to work out, the Orioles will have to prove they can acquire and develop pitching. And while minor league pitchers Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith weren’t drafted by the Orioles, they were acquired as minor leaguers, spent time in the farm system, and could make their major league debuts as soon as next season.

Bradish and Smith have a few other things in common. Both pitchers are 24 years old and played particularly well at Double-A in 2021. Unfortunately, both struggled at Triple-A this year too.

Kyle Bradish is a former Angels 4th round pick (121st overall) in 2018 out of New Mexico State University. He came to the O’s by way of trade. On December 4, 2019, the Birds sent Dylan Bundy to the Angels for a package of four right-handed pitchers, including Isaac Mattson, Kyle Brnovich, Zach Peek, and the aforementioned Bradish.

MLB Pipeline has Bradish ranked as the O’s 9th best prospect, and his stock has actually risen since he came over from the West Coast. He’s gained a few miles per hour on his fastball — which now reaches the high 90s — since joining the Orioles organization, and his potential has gone from that of a mid-rotation starter to something more.

His MLB Pipeline scouting report also notes a high-effort delivery on the mound, which can hinder his control and contribute to injury worries. So that will be something to monitor over the long-term.

But he’s gaining a reputation in the system as a potential high-impact arm. This past June, O’s director of player development Matt Blood had some high praise for Bradish:

“He’s dominating, he’s the right age and we want to continue to challenge him and get him closer to the major leagues...I think all of his stuff is tough to hit. When we ask our hitters when they face him, they say he is one of the toughest guys they’ve ever faced.”

Before he was acquired by the Orioles, Bradish spent just one season in the Angels system. With High-A Inland Empire in 2019, the right-hander had a 4.28 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 10.7 SO/9 over the course of 101 innings.

Flash forward a couple years, and Bradish put up some crazy numbers with Bowie in 2021, like 17.1 K/9 and 5.20 K/BB. Problem was, it didn’t last long. But not because Double-A hitters figured him out. He only started three games for Bowie, which accounted for a total of 13.2 innings. Then he got promoted.

With 86.2 innings pitched in the Triple-A East, Bradish spent the bulk of his season with the Tides. He didn’t have the same success there as he did in Bowie.

Bradish made 19 starts for Norfolk and two relief appearances while putting up a 4.26 ERA. He gave up nearly a hit per inning with the Tides and averaged 4.1 BB/9, which contributed to an inflated WHIP of 1.43. But the righty still showed the ability to miss bats. He collected 105 strikeouts with Norfolk, good for an average of 10.9 K/9.

If Bradish is able to maintain his pitching mechanics and find more consistent control, he could sneak into top-of-the-rotation discussion. But he’ll also have to produce better numbers at Triple-A, which was a struggle at for him times this past season.

He should be a spring training invite next year and could challenge for a rotation spot with a strong Grapefruit League season. But most likely, Bradish will start the 2022 season with Norfolk, where he’s got a chance to figure out the high minors and get more innings under his belt.

We can probably expect to see Bradish make his MLB debut sometime during the summer, as a replacement for a starter who is either injured or ineffective.

Bradish’s Triple-A rotation mate, left-hander Kevin Smith, had a similar path in 2021. He performed well in Bowie, registering a 1.04 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in six games (including five games started). In 26 innings, he averaged 6.2 H/9, with 12.8 K/9 and 3.70 K/BB.

Then Smith was promoted to Triple-A on June 15, 2021, where he experienced adversity. In 16 appearances (15 starts) over 56.1 innings with the Tides, Smith recorded a 6.23 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP. Adding insult to injury, he gave up a lot of walks (7.8 BB/9) and long balls (2.2 HR/9).

Smith’s Triple-A performance was a rude awakening. Before coming to the Orioles organization, the lefty put up a 3.15 ERA between High-A and Double-A with the New York Mets in 2019. A former 7th round (200th overall) pick of the Mets in 2018 out of Georgia, Smith was acquired on August 31, 2020 for Miguel Castro. The Orioles also received a player to be named later in the trade, revealed to be Victor Gonzalez the following month.

Smith doesn’t throw particularly hard, especially when you consider his 6’ 5” frame. Instead, he relies on control and keeping hitters off balance. His three pitch mix includes a low-90s fastball, a changeup, and a slider.

Right now, Smith’s ceiling is a bit lower than Bradish’s. Ranked as Baltimore’s 14th best prospect by MLB Pipeline, the left-hander projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter, or potentially a bullpen piece. Smith filled both roles while in college at Georgia, before the Mets drafted him and made him a full-time starter.

Smith’s MLB pathway projects similarly to fellow 24-year-old Bradish. Both have an outside shot of making the ball club out of spring training, but will most likely start 2022 in the minors and get promoted sometime in-season.

There will be a lot of competition in the rotation next spring training and throughout the year as well. Just like 2021. So there’s a good chance for Smith and Bradish to get a shot — or a couple, knowing how much run the Norfolk shuttle gets — in Baltimore next season.

Previous 2021 Orioles prospect reviews: Ryan McKenna, Alexander Wells, Brnovich/Peek/Pinto, Diaz/Bannon, Tyler Nevin, Vavra/Ortiz/Servideo, Zac Lowther, DL Hall/Rom, Hernandez/Basallo, Jahmai Jones, Hudson Haskin

Tomorrow: Coby Mayo and Darell Hernaiz