Detroit Tigers’ Dylan Smith convinced he’ll pitch in MLB in 2023. You shouldn’t doubt him

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers have several fascinating pitching prospects in their minor league system.

Wilmer Flores was named the Tigers’ 2022 minor league pitcher of the year — and for good reason. He has a vicious fastball; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Detroit at some point this season.

Ty Madden climbed to Double-A Erie in his first full season — an impressive feat that propelled him, in the eyes of some evaluators, among the Tigers’ top five prospects.

And Jackson Jobe is hugely important to this franchise, which is why the announcement of his back injury raised so many red flags. Speaking as someone who has had spine issues, including inflammation, any time that injury comes up, it’s concerning.

But there’s another pitcher in this system who doesn’t get the attention he deserves: Dylan Smith, the Tigers’ third-round pick in 2021.

It’s like he’s the forgotten man.

Which is a mistake.

“He’s been very impressive so far this spring,” Ryan Garko, the Tigers vice president of player development, said in early March.

Last year, Smith advanced to High-A West Michigan, missed about a month with tendonitis in his triceps and then finished the season strong.

His final stat line reads like the exact formula created by new Tigers president Scott Harris: pounding the strike zone, getting lots of strikeouts, limiting walks and giving up few homers. Smith struck out 89 batters in 88⅓ innings, walking 21 while giving up just six homers for a 1.155 WHIP with the High-A Whitecaps and the Low-A Flying Tigers of Lakeland.

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Ding, ding, ding.

That’s what the Tigers want to see. That’s what Harris is preaching.

“Do you think you’re poised to do something special this year?” I asked Smith.

“I feel like this is a great year for me,” he said. “I feel like I can get to Detroit.”

His bluntness surprised me.

“You do?” I asked.

“I do,” he said confidently.

“What will it take to get there?” I asked.

“Lots of focus,” he said. “I feel like if I didn’t go down last year, I felt like I could have ended the year in Double-A.”

I nodded, understanding his point.

“And then when you end the year in Double-A, you’re right there,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “I just felt like my injury and timing of it wasn’t so great. So it kind of hurt me, where I was supposed to end.”

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Lessons from the injury

Smith started the 2022 season at Low-A Lakeland, throwing two games and recording three strikeouts in five innings with no runs allowed. He was quickly promoted.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Smith said. “I just came in. I just had a chip on my shoulder to go out and play, have fun and just kind of prove myself that I belong.”

In July, he was shut down with the triceps injury.

“Something I love was taken away from me,” he said. “I never had an injury, so learning how to deal with getting injured and bouncing back from it was the biggest thing.”

He returned to Lakeland, where he recovered with several other players.

“It brought me back down to reality a little bit and I had to get a big reset,” Smith said. “I really had to learn how to be patient. You can only control what you can control.”

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He was shut down for about two weeks and then ramped back up.

“I felt like the reset was huge,” he said. “When I went back, I had a lot of confidence. I had to go out and prove myself again, bounce back from my injury. And I felt like I finished out really well.”

In his final six games, he threw 25⅓ innings and recorded 32 strikeouts with just eight walks and didn’t give up a home run, while throwing 65% strikes.

In other words, he was even better.

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“I felt like last year was a pretty great first year for me,” Smith said. “I had to overcome some obstacles, but I felt like I’ve handled the situations and learned how to deal with it and move on.”

Garko believes Smith has grown.

“Year 1 is always a big learning experience,” Garko said. “Dylan went through some of the ups and downs of a first-year player. Started off great, finished great with a minor setback in the middle of the season. I think now he knows kind of how to take care of his body, how he needs to train between starts, how he needs to manage his time before and after the game in terms of preparation. Checking all those boxes. You can tell he’s more confident and more secure and just who he is as a player and how he wants to go about his routine. I think there’s so much room for growth with Dylan. He hasn’t been pitching that long.”

No doubt in his mind

A few days later, I saw Smith again, walking outside the Tigers facility.

I told him that I was fascinated with his comment about getting to Detroit this season, and I wanted to make sure I had it right.

“I’m getting there,” he said confidently.

He kept looking me in the eyes. Full of conviction and belief.

“That’s the goal,” he said. “That’s the place.”

His goal is clear.

And so is his path: Keep throwing strikes, keep developing and keep moving through the system.

But most of all, stay healthy.

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Contact Jeff Seidel at or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to

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