Detroit Tigers observations: How Dylan Smith made Eric De La Rosa’s bat vanish

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers prospect Dylan Smith wants to review his five-pitch performance against outfielder Eric De La Rosa.

He opens the Twitter app on his iPhone and pulls up the video.

The 21-year-old right-hander threw 15 pitches Friday morning, five each to Gage Workman, De La Rosa and Colt Keith. Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter watched from behind the plate, reading the analytics off an iPad.

“That was a curveball,” Smith says about his first pitch — a swing-and-miss strike — to De La Rosa, who jumped from Low-A Lakeland to Double-A Erie last season and played in the Arizona Fall League.

Smith, the Tigers’ No. 74 overall pick in the 2021 draft out of Alabama, hasn’t pitched in pro ball yet. He is the organization’s No. 7 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and the third-best pitching prospect.

Smith’s second offering to De La Rosa caught everyone’s attention.

What was that pitch?

“Fastball in and above the hands,” Smith says.

He becomes silent, watches the film, then nods.

“Fastball,” Smith confirms. “It was in and on his hands. Middle-in.”

The result: De La Rosa swung hard, missed the ball and lost his bat, which launched over the dugout, over a gravel pathway, over another dugout and landed in the adjacent field. The bat came to rest more than 50 feet away.

De La Rosa sauntered to the dugout to get another bat, while Workman crossed into the nearby field to retrieve his teammate’s missing bat. “Had good exit velocity on that,” Workman later said. “We were on Field 3, and he threw that to Field 2, so that was impressive.”

Thankfully, no bystanders were injured.

But there were playful jabs.

“I was a little nervous,” Smith says. “I thought it was going to hit me at first, but then I saw it drift, so I was happy. I saw it slip, and I was like, ‘Ope!’ I got out of the way. But after that, I just kept attacking.”

So, what was the third pitch?

“I think I go fastball that way,” he says. “Yeah, fastball away.”

You missed the strike zone.

“I missed,” Smith says. “I missed to see if he would chase.”

Tigers prospect Colt Keith has incredible bulk — in his body, his bat and his confidence ]

He continues, “And then I spotted it.”

For his fourth pitch, Smith returned to his fastball but adjusted the location.

“It was right in the zone,” Smith says. “I went fastball outside (with my third pitch) to change the eye level and go down, and then I rose it a little bit (with my fourth pitch). Some guys will chase on the fastball. Sometimes it sinks. My ball dies at the last minute sometimes.

“So when he didn’t swing (at the third pitch), I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to do the same thing, but I’m going to pound it up a little higher in the (bottom) corner of the zone.’ I caught him looking.”

Finally, what was your fifth pitch to De La Rosa?

“Curveball to put him away,” Smith says.

As Smith pitched, 23-year-old catcher Cooper Johnson crouched behind the plate. He advanced to High-A West Michigan last season and had a strong vocal presence during the live batting practice.

“Very nice!” yelled Johnson, taken in the sixth round of the 2019 draft.

For Smith’s 15 pitches, he used his fastball, curveball and splitter. He also has a slider in his arsenal. The 6-foot-2 righty made 16 starts for Alabama last season, posting a 3.84 ERA with 20 walks and 113 strikeouts in 98⅓ innings.

Smith is already learning new tricks in minor-league minicamp.

“I’ve gotten better,” Smith said. “I’ve learned how to use my body more, my legs, and how to be on time a little bit better. I’ve cleaned some things up with my delivery. I feel like that’s been good.”

[ Tigers prospect Keider Montero has elite curveball spin, but what is he missing? ]

Christmas comes early (or late)

Tom Moore, the Tigers’ director of international scouting, brought his family to TigerTown on Friday.

After workouts, Tigers prospects Spencer Torkelson and Ryan Kreidler gifted his children gear. Torkelson provided his batting gloves, and Kreidler dished out the bat he broke during batting practice.

Moore’s kids were pumped.

Focus on defense

Tigers infielder coordinator Billy Boyer gathered most of the key infield prospects in a group at the end of practice Friday, as they went through fielding drills.

“Find the kill zone!” Boyer screamed.

The group at third base included Keith, Izaac Pacheco, Josh Lester and Andre Lipcius.

“Catch it clean!” Boyer said.

The Tigers’ focus on defense is impossible to ignore.

“I think (defense) can do a lot, especially with the shifts,” said Tigers infielder Jack Lopez, who played seven games for the Boston Red Sox last season. “I’ve never played in Comerica (Park), but with that big stadium, defense is huge. I think defense is huge for an organization that’s trying to turn it around and win ballgames. Defense is close to the top.”

Potential for Tigers’ Jackson Jobe? ‘No. 1 starter on championship team’ ]

Golf update

All the young guns went to the Tigers’ golf outing Thursday afternoon, decked out in golf attire.

But one of the old guys — respectfully speaking — got one of the big honors.

David Chadd, the assistant general manager, won closest to the pin.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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