Tyler Smith was a dominant starting pitcher and standout infielder at Penn-Trafford High School several years ago. Smith is now excelling on the diamond at Canisius College, although he’s doing so as a relief pitcher. Smith is this week’s profile for the WPIAL Alum Q&A.
Smith played three years of high-school varsity baseball with the Warriors, helping guide the team to playoff appearances in each of those seasons. In 2012, the Warriors went 10-9-1, losing to Upper St. Clair in the opening round of the Quad-A playoffs. That season, Smith batted over .400 at the plate as a sophomore.
The following year, Penn-Trafford improved to 13-7, falling to the Central Catholic Vikings in the first round. Smith turned in a terrific season on the mound, as he was named the WPIAL Class Quad-A Pitcher of the Year, but he suffered an elbow ailment that forced him to miss the postseason game. He also compiled a batting average of .330.
As a senior in 2014, Smith proved to be one of the best two-way players in the district. At the plate, he hit .493 with five home runs and 35 RBIs. On the rubber, Smith achieved a 6-3 record, with an ERA of 1.51 and 78 strikeouts. For his efforts, he was named to the MSA Sports Diamond Studs team. However, the Warriors once again fell in the first round of the playoffs, this time to Mount Lebanon, and finished with a mark of 15-5.
Smith joined Canisius for the 2015 campaign as both a pitcher and a first baseman, but he appeared exclusively as a pitcher. In 20 appearances, all in relief, Smith pitched just more than 36 innings, registering a 1-0 record and an ERA of 3.22. Perhaps most impressive, he struck out 49 hitters and allowed a batting average of just .197. The Golden Griffins compiled a mark of 34-30, including 16-8 in conference play. Canisius won five straight games to captured the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship, including the final two contests against Siena. As a result, the Golden Griffins qualified for the 2015 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship postseason, but was eliminated after losing to Missouri State and Oregon in the Springfield Regional.
Last year, Smith filled a similar role, making 22 appearances out of the bullpen. Although his ERA rose to 4.63, he compiled a record of 6-3, as well as one save. The team enjoyed a comparable level of success, too, as Canisius went 32-27, and 16-8 again in MAAC play. The conference postseason yielded a different result, though, as the Golden Griffins were bounced by Siena just prior to the title game.
This campaign, Smith has ascended to the role of closer for Canisius, and he’s been nearly perfect thus far. In 13 games, he has registered six saves, and a 2-0 record. Moreover, his ERA is a minuscule 0.55, and his batting average against is just .123. He’s also struck out 24 hitters in just more than 16 innings. The team, meanwhile, is off to a 20-13 start, although surprisingly is just 4-5 in conference tilts.
Tyler took time from his schedule recently to answer questions about his improvement this season, the toughest hitter he faced in high school, as well as his interesting routine prior to entering a game.
Q: After two solid seasons, your numbers have been significantly better in 2017. What has been the biggest factor in your success this season?
A: My fastball command is 100 percent the reason that I’m having a better year. In the past, I was just a guy who threw – I didn’t know how to pitch. This year, I have worked with Coach McRae on fastball command to both sides of the plate, so I can better set up my offspeed.
Q: In college, you have pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. How was the transition to reliever after primarily being a starter in high school?
A: The transition has been extremely smooth. I was worried at first, because I rarely ever had to come in from the pen, and it’s a completely different mentality. I really embraced the role, and I honestly love my role with the team. I love going in to pressure situations and giving everything I have every single pitch. That’s a luxury that starters, in general, don’t really have.
Q: What pitches do you throw, and do you have an “out pitch”?
A: I throw a fastball, 12-to-6 curve, slider, and change-up. My out pitch is a slider to right handed hitters, and my curve to left.
Q: What individual goals did you set for the year, and what were some of the team goals?
A: My personal goal for this year was to earn the closer role and to maintain a WHIP that was under 1.00. As a team, our goal every year never changes. We want to win the MAAC. Beyond that, it would be awesome to get a win in a regional, as well!
Q: Which opponent do you consider Canisius’ biggest rival?
A: Our biggest rival as a school is Niagara; however, our biggest baseball rival, in my opinion, is Siena. We always have good games against them, and not including last year, we had met in the conference championship three years in a row.
Q: What factors led to you attending Canisius?
A: I really loved their business school, and it’s a super welcoming atmosphere. I was also given the opportunity to earn a spot in the lineup as a first baseman, but hitting at the Division I level wasn’t my thing anymore and I’m completely okay with that!
Q: What is your major, and ideal future profession?
A: I’m a finance major, and if baseball doesn’t work out for me, then ideally, I’d like to become a financial advisor like my dad.
Q: What was your fondest memory at Penn-Trafford?
A: I really loved the guys who I played with in high school. It was a fun group of guys that knew how to play the game right and have fun doing it. Bus trips were especially fun!
Q: Who was the toughest hitter you faced in high school?
A: I think that JJ Matijevic of Norwin would have to be the best hitter I faced in high school. We had played against each other for a long time in travel ball and in high school, and he was always someone who I wanted to face. There’s no better feeling than facing someone who you know is going places in the sport.
Q: Do you still follow the Warriors and the WPIAL?
A: I do follow both of them quite a bit. I’m not looking at it every day, but I definitely peek in to see how the squad is doing from time to time.
Q: Do you have a routine in the bullpen during games?
A: Yes. Since I have a relatively set position, I’ll usually go out to the bullpen two innings early and go through a few weighted-ball exercises to get my arm warmed up. I do that before I come in every game, and when I come in to the game, I always throw two fastballs, one change, two curve balls, two sliders and one more fastball, and then I write the initials of a friend from high school who lost his life, along with a cross to remind me who I play for.
Q: Which MLB player, past or present, would you like to face for one at-bat?
A: I’d love to face Dustin Pedroia. He’s been my favorite player in baseball since he came up to the Red Sox club, and I admire how scrappy he is at the plate and I think it’d be a great experience for me!
Q: To which movie can you recite nearly every line?
A: Talladega Nights is one of my all-time favorite comedies and it is extremely quotable!
Q: What is your favorite holiday?
A: My favorite holiday is probably Christmas, because I get the longest break from school and I get to see my family for an extended period of time. Plus, who doesn’t like gifts?
Q: If you could give advice to yourself as a high-school freshman, what would it be?
A: Always do more than what is required. Someone is always going to be better than you, and it’s your work ethic and what you do behind the scenes that will set you apart from others. That’s something that I wish I would’ve understood more in high school.