Riley Smith: D-backs 2020 Rookie Of The Year
The 12th pitch of righthander Riley Smith’s major league career was blasted by Charlie Blackmon for a no-doubt grand slam in late August. It was the kind of start that could have rattled Smith and sunk his season just as it began.
Instead, Smith was nearly untouchable over his next five appearances, most of them in long relief. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 innings while striking out 18 and walking five.
Smith beat out a collection of Diamondbacks rookies who reached the majors for the first time this season. Daulton Varsho started slow but put up solid numbers over the final three weeks. Pavin Smith showed a good approach and occasional pop in a two-week cameo. Wyatt Mathisen and Andy Young also saw limited action.
Strangely—or perhaps not since strange has come to be expected this year—all of those players will again qualify as rookies next season.
That includes Riley Smith. He said he was able to put aside the Blackmon grand slam in part because he believed it was the only bad pitch he threw that night.
“It was just staying grounded and knowing I didn’t suck that bad,” Smith said. “I made a really bad pitch. I felt bad to give up the runs that were on base, but not getting overwhelmed and not giving up on myself.”
The 25-year-old Smith was one of the few bright spots for the last-place D-backs. A 24th-round pick in 2016 out of Louisiana State, Smith steadily rose through the system over the past few years, his velocity and secondary stuff both improving.
He was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason but still wasn’t necessarily being viewed as a big league option for this year. To his credit, he took full advantage of his opportunity, putting himself on the radar heading into 2021, whether it is as a starter or again back in the bullpen.
“He continues to execute a great game plan,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with his progress, his execution and his results.”
— D-backs general manager Mike Hazen raved about Pavin Smith’s physical condition on the day Smith was called up to the majors in September, saying he had lost weight and changed his body composition to gain speed and quickness. Hazen said the club now views Smith as an option in center field, though Smith did not appear there in the 12 games he played with the D-backs.
— Righthander Taylor Widener returned to the mound the final week of the season after missing nearly a month with a strained right rib cage. Widener’s first exposure to the majors was a mixed bag; he showed good stuff and the ability to miss bats, but he issued 12 walks and served up five homers in 20 innings.