SURPRISE, Ariz. — Burch Smith was so amped up that he plunked a teammate in batting practice for the Kansas City Royals.
Manager Ned Yost was more worried about the follow-up pitch from the Rule 5 draft pick, and he liked what he saw.
“A young guy, first time in camp, it tends to be a little nerve-wracking,” Yost said. “First time you’re throwing BP and you’ve got the manager and coaches standing behind. Your natural tendency is try to be impressive. Here we go, you drill somebody.
“I’ve always been attuned to the next pitch. Does it send you off the edge and give you even more anxiety? Every time he’s come close to somebody, the next pitch has been a strike. And that’s a good sign.”
Kansas City will have to keep Smith, a hard-throwing 27-year-old right-hander, on the roster all season or offer him back to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Different uniform, a new opportunity,” Smith said.
Smith was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in back-to-back years but did not sign. He signed instead with the San Diego Padres, who took him in 2011 after his junior season at Oklahoma. He was in the majors by 2013, going 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA in 10 games, seven of them starts.
He went to the Rays in 2014 as part of a three-team trade.
Smith pitched only 5 1/3 innings in 2014 and none the next two years. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and a setback in 2016.
“Not a fun couple of years,” Smith said. “In ’14, they called it a UCL strain. In ’15, I got the Tommy John and in 2016 a fractured bone tunnel, one of those holes they drill you for your ligament.”
In his first rehab start in 2016, he said the elbow did not feel good and he came off the mound. X-rays detected the fractured bone tunnel.
“I didn’t have to get bone surgery, just a lot of rest, just healing,” Smith said. “Dr. (James) Andrews said I’m only the fourth case he’s seen in nearly 5,000 Tommy John surgeries. It’s pretty uncommon. I think it’s just one of those things that happened.”
Smith was healthy in 2017 and made six starts in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 29 and allowed only 12 hits in 20 1/3 innings. Royals scouts clocked one of his fastballs at 100 mph, and he was consistently in the upper 90s. When the Rays did not protect him by putting him on the 40-man big-league roster, the Royals got him in the Rule 5 draft.
Smith is not concerned about lighting up radar guns in spring training.
“I’m more worried about staying healthy and staying on the field,” Smith said. “The velocity and all the other stuff will come.”
Smith is a rotation candidate but could make the team as a power arm out of the bullpen.
“For right now, I’m a starter,” Smith said. “They said come in and be ready to start. That’s how I’ve prepared. I’ve always been a starter. I like to start. We’ll see how that plays out.”