OAKLAND—Back in high school, folks chuckled at the way righthander Paul Smyth threw a baseball.
He comes from an angle a little lower than sidearm, like a third baseman firing after bare-handing a bunt. "I've always had that delivery," Smyth said. "I used to think it was a bad thing."
No one is laughing at the 23-year-old anymore, though more than a few hitters curse his name.
Smyth saved 28 games for high Class A Stockton this season, while notching 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings to pace California League relievers.
"He continues to pound the strike zone," farm director Keith Lieppman said. "He has a really nice sinker. The ball moves a lot. I'm eager to see him pitch in Double-A, (because) I think we'll be seeing the real test."
Smyth stunned the Athletics last year. After signing as a 35th-rounder out of Kansas, he posted 36 scoreless innings for short-season Vancouver and low Class A Kane County. "He didn't give up an earned run until the second game of instructional league," Lieppman said.
Smyth said he spent most of this season developing a slider to go with his high-80s sinker and changeup.
"It's something I didn't have in college," he said. "This year, being in the closer role, it becomes necessary to strike out people, and the slider's become a strikeout pitch. I'm starting to get a lot better depth with it."
Smyth played mostly catcher and third base at Atascadero (Calif.) High until he joined the Firestone Rangers, a under-18 travel team based in San Luis Obispo. Kansas coach Ritch Price's two sons, Ryan and Ritchie, both played for the Rangers, and that's where the coach first recruited Smyth to attend KU—as a pitcher.
Smyth became the Jayhawks' closer as a sophomore and pitched well as a junior. He spoke to several teams about the draft, telling them he preferred to stay in school to finish his business marketing degree, which he did.
But a freak offseason shoulder injury derailed his senior season (5.40 ERA) and dropped him to the 35th round of the draft. Smyth sprained his right shoulder after he slipped and fell while running in the indoor facility. But everything has worked out in the end.
A leader in the clubhouse, Smyth is fluent in Spanish and acts as translator for his Latin teammates, which combined with his fine pitching has made him a draft bargain for the A's.
• Double-A Midland second baseman Jemile Weeks missed the Texas League playoffs with further hip and hamstring problems. He appeared in 67 games for the RockHounds and batted .267/.335/.403.
• Stockton outfielder Jeremy Barfield had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, an injury that probably will force him to miss instructional league. He batted .272/.340/.417 with 17 homers in 508 at-bats.