Smoker's freshman high school season, he set a school strikeout record with 126 in 62 innings. He broke the record in 2005, when he amassed 137 in 75 innings, helping his team win Georgia's 2-A championship. Smoker was named co-player of the year in the state, sharing the honors with Buster Posey, now at Florida State. And he was a teammate with Charlie Culberson.
In 2007, Smoker committed to Clemson University during his senior year at Calhoun High School in Georgia. But Josh signed with the Nationals for a bonus of $1 million, passing up the scholarship to Clemson. Eric Robinson is the scout who signed him.
A first-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2007, Smoker struggled initially as a starting pitcher, suffered the first of multiple shoulder injuries, converted to the bullpen, then lost his job when he couldn't make it out of Class A as a 23-year-old.
In 2013, Smoker underwent a second shoulder surgery, hooked on with an independent league team the following season, and signed with the Mets in 2015 on a tip from a scout. (DiComo - MLB.com - 7/26/16)
In 2008, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Smoker as the 6th-best prospect in the Nationals farm system. But they dropped him down to #25 in the spring of 2009.
After not appearing in the Handbook from 2010 through 2015—six years—they had Josh at #24 in the spring of 2016.
In 2014, Smoker pitched in relief for Rockford of the independent Frontier League. He figured he would give independent ball one more shot in 2015 before calling it a career.
“There was a point a couple of years ago when I pretty much thought I was done,” Smoker said in July 2015. “I was planning on going back to independent ball this year . . . but I really wasn’t expecting much to come from it. Luckily it did.
“I think the biggest difference is I’m finally healthy. Before, every time I picked up the ball, it seemed like my arm was going to fall off. It’s good to finally be healthy.”
Josh has completed his unorthodox arc to the big leagues. The Mets called up Smoker as their 26th man for Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, a brief reward for his unexpected ascension through the Minors.
Smoker, who did not appear in the Mets' 3-1 win in Game 2, earned his cup of coffee thanks to a Major League Baseball rule allowing teams to carry a 26th man for doubleheaders. The lefthander owned a 4.73 ERA with one save in 43 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, but he posted a 0.90 ERA over his final seven appearances there, with 15 strikeouts in 10 innings.
With Smoker's velocity back approaching triple digits, he rose rapidly up the Minor League ranks, raising eyebrows in the 2016 spring at big league camp.
That earned Smoker a plane ticket to New York at age 27, nine years removed from his selection in the 2007 draft. It was a whirlwind two days for Smoker, who flew with the 51s from Las Vegas to Fresno, Calif., before receiving a phone call from the Mets in the middle of the night. His instructions were to fly to New York, where he arrived in the sixth inning of the Mets' doubleheader nightcap. Smoker watched the final three innings from the bullpen before packing his bags back up for a return trip to California.
"That was a good wakeup call, definitely a good wakeup call," Smoker said, laughing. "One I won't forget."
Josh couldn't remember the last automobile race he attended in person. Maybe it was in high school, after his days behind the wheel were over. But Smoker still felt at home when he and George Kontos took a trip during Spring Training 2018 to watch the IndyCar Series' Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
"It was cool getting back in that atmosphere," Smoker said. "I tell you what, I missed the smell of the racing fuel. That's something you'll never forget."
Before baseball became his career, racing was his passion. Smoker's father, Mike, is an engineer who provides parts for everything from go-karts to bigger race cars. Growing up in Calhoun, Ga., Smoker got into racing when he was 4 years old, driving quarter midgets before progressing to Bandolero and late-model cars. The last time Smoker raced, he said, he was 14 years old.
"You'll lose your instincts pretty fast," he said, smiling. "It takes a different person to get behind the wheel of a car and go 200 mph." (Berry - mlb.com - 3/12/18)
June 2007: The Nationals chose him in the supplemental portion of the first round, out of Calhoun High School in Georgia.
April 2015: The Mets signed Smoker after bird dog Paul Fletcher, the pitching coach at York of the independent Atlantic League, watched a bullpen session on eve of the season.
- Jan. 31, 2018: The Mets traded Smoker to the Pirates with Daniel Zamora and cash coming to the Mets.
|Birth City:||Calhoun, GA|
|Draft:||Nationals #1 (suppl.) - 2007 - Out of high school (GA)|
Smoker is a lefthander with an 94-98 mph 4-seam FASTBALL that he runs in on the hands of righthanded hitters. It is a 70 grade heater. But nothing else is average. He has a 79-82 mph CURVEBALL with a 45 grade, and a 83-86 mph SPLITTER that also gets a 45.
Smoke's fastball is backed up by the two solid secondary pitches, the slider and splitter that grade out near average. Despite the time away from affiliated ball, he recorded his lowest walk rate since Rookie ball in 2015, and was striking out an average 11 per nine innings.
2016 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 65% of the time; Slider 3.5%; Curve 19,2% of the time; and Split 12.2% of the time.
2017 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 57% of the time; Curve 26.6%; Split 16.5% of the time.
- Josh is a strong, lean lefty with a solid athletic look. He might remind people of a young Mike Stanton.
Smoker has a loose, easy and smooth delivery. When he stays over the rubber and doesn't attempt to overthrow, he shows about average command of all of his stuff. He is consistent with his release point. He gets a 45 grade for his control.
He is durable and athletic.
- Josh is a cerebral lefthander who is well-liked by teammates and coaches. He is a fiery, intense competitor. And he has a good feel for pitching.
November 2008: Smoker underwent left shoulder surgery, performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama. He cleaned up the area, including a bone spur removal.
Josh had tried to pitch with the shoulder problems since early in 2008 spring training.
- May 2010: Smoker was on the D.L. for a couple of weeks.
April 17, 2012: Josh was on the D.L.
July 1, 2012: Smoker went back on the D.L.
Josh talked about his injuries in 2015, after the Mets signed him. "I had a few shoulder surgeries—it was labrum and cuff,” Smoker said. “It (originated with) a bone spur that was rubbing everything . . . so I got that all cleaned up and taken care of, and now everything feels good."
- June 14-July 20, 2017: Josh was on the DL with left shoulder strain.