Austin Smith is Old (For a High Schooler)

The San Diego Padres selected right-handed pitcher Austin Smith in the second-round of the 2015 draft tonight. You can find lots of information about Smith all over the internet, a large percentage of it from people far more knowledgeable about his likely future than this writer. Here, for example, is what Kiley McDaniel said about him:

Smith has a big frame, smooth arm action and has run it up to 97 mph along with an above average curveball, so the starter traits and solid health indicators are there, but the lack of a plus secondary pitch has him in the second tier of prep arms.

Sounds good.

But here’s a potentially interesting piece of information about Smith: he’s relatively old for a high school draft pick. In fact, on McDaniel’s draft board, only seven of the 108 high schoolers listed are older than Smith, and the average age is 18.4 compared to 18.9 for Smith, who was born July 9th, 1996.

Various studies suggest that younger is better when it comes to draft prospects, perhaps most obviously because younger is better when it comes to baseball prospects in general. Take two guys in Double-A ball, both performing at the same level, and one’s 20 while the other one is 22. Which one are you taking? Take two players performing at the same level in high school, one’s almost 19 (Smith) while the other (Triston McKenzie, let’s say, drafted 42nd overall by the Indians) has yet to turn 18. Which one are you taking? There’s just more room for improvement for the younger player, especially if both players have shown a similar ability against comparable competition.

You’re smart, so you probably thinking … wait a second, there’s a lot more to a pitching prospect than age. Of course, you’re right, which is why there’s a decent chance this won’t matter — pitcher aging curves are funky, anyway. If Smith delivers as the Padres expect him to, he’ll turn into a valuable pitcher regardless of his age when he was drafted. Then again, if he doesn’t, maybe the Padres will look back and wish they gambled on a younger high school hurler.

Or something like that.

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