Joe Smith: Detour to the Major Leagues

Indians right-handed pitcher Joe Smith never imagined that suffering an injury could lead to a professional baseball career.

Smith tore his labrum during his sophomore season at Amelia High School. His injury landed him at first base for several years and brought his high school pitching career to an end.

The Cincinnati native attended Wright State University, where he was cut from the baseball squad as a walk-on his freshman year. Smith continued working hard and wound up making the team his sophomore year.

Wright State had just hired a new coaching staff, and one particular coach was looking to convert one of his players into a sidearm pitcher. Smith challenged himself to regain his arm strength and learn how to throw sidearm, ultimately impressing the coaching staff and eventually Major League scouts.

“I just jumped up there and started throwing, and [the assistant coach] went and got the head coach. Then they tried to convince me to stay down that way,” Smith said. “It took a while, but I ended up just kind of staying that way. My arm ended up coming back, coming back, and I could throw a little bit harder.

“I ended up getting drafted in the third round to the Mets. It got me to the big leagues pretty quick.”

Smith was one of a handful of sidearm pitchers when he was drafted. In his first season with the Mets, he finished 3-2 with a 3.45 ERA in 54 games.

In 31 games with the Indians this season, Smith carries a 5-1 record and a 3.60 ERA.

Most sidearm pitchers live up to the stereotype that they are only successful against particular hitters. Smith said he believes he has an advantage against right-handed hitters, but he has done his best to eliminate that “specialist tag” and face both right and left-handed batters.

“I’m a little fortunate; I throw a little harder than most guys that throw from down there,” he said. “You’re more of a specialist guy, but over the past few years, I’ve been able to figure out how to get left-handers out.”

Smith said he proved numerous critics wrong on his path to the Major Leagues.

“Whether it’s stubbornness, determination, whatever the word, if you want to do something, you can’t do it halfheartedly. If it’s really your dream, if you really want it, you have to do everything possible you can do to make it,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, you can look back and say, well, that was everything I got.”

-Megan Golden, TribeVibe contributor

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