Get to know Arkansas ace Hagen Smith

June 3rd, 2024

Unmatched strikeout stuff? A fastball that touches triple digits? A wipeout slider? has it all. An elite left-handed pitching prospect in the 2024 Draft class, Smith has all the tools to be a top-flight starter in the Major Leagues.

Here's what to know about MLB Pipeline's No. 6 Draft prospect.

Position: LHP
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-3, 225 lbs.
B/T: Left/left
DOB: Aug. 19, 2003
College: Arkansas
High school: Bullard (Texas)
Born: Tyler, Texas
MLB Pipeline ranking: No. 6

An admirable arsenal

Standing in at the plate against 100 mph fastballs is never easy. But Smith makes it even harder for opposing hitters.

The lefty utilizes a funky delivery, throwing from a low-three-quarters arm slot and creating a ton of deception and rising action on his pitches. He typically sits 94-97 mph with his fastball but has been known to touch triple digits.

According to MLB Pipeline, though, the electric fastball isn't even Smith's best pitch. That would be his slider, which sits in the mid-80s and is equally effective against righties and lefties. The Arkansas southpaw also features a splitter in the upper 80s, although he sometimes struggles to command it.

More K's than anyone

The highest rate of strikeouts per nine innings in ALL of NCAA Division I baseball? That distinction has belonged to Smith for much of this season. The lefty finished his junior campaign with 161 punchouts in just 84 innings of work. That translates to a whopping 17.25 K/9 rate -- equating to nearly two batters per inning.

While it won't be easy for Smith to strike out quite as many batters in the Majors, his 2024 K/9 at Arkansas would easily top the record for qualified MLB starters.

Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs said Smith has undergone a sizable physical transformation since his first collegiate season in 2022. The lefty has put on considerable bulk, cleaned up his delivery, improved his lower-body strength and added to his arsenal.

"As far as the pitching is concerned, he’s made a lot of progression from what he was as a freshman to what he is now, certainly," Hobbs said.

An unforgettable performance ... on a big league field

Everything came together for Smith on Feb. 23, when the lefty delivered one of the most memorable pitching performances in recent history.

Facing seventh-ranked Oregon State at Globe Life Field (home of the Rangers), Smith recorded each of his first FIFTEEN outs by way of a strikeout. He struck out two more batters in the sixth inning, ending his night with a ridiculous stat line: six innings, three hits, no runs and a whopping 17 K's.

Smith's performance tied a single-game strikeout record for his Razorbacks. In MLB, no pitcher has struck out 17 or more batters in a game since Chris Sale fanned 17 on May 14, 2019 -- and no one has EVER had that many K's in six or fewer innings.

“That was probably the best I’ve ever thrown before," Smith recently recalled on the MLB Pipeline Podcast.

The performance rightfully garnered a lot of national attention, but Hobbs noted that Smith didn't get caught up in the hype -- a fate many players have been unable to avoid.

"It’s really kind of refreshing, honestly," Hobbs said. "Anytime you get a guy that’s going into a season as high profile as he was at the beginning of the year and then does something like that early, the hype machine just gets built up to insurmountable levels that no one can live up to. And he’s lived up to them and even gone beyond."

Bouncing back -- and then some

Smith underwent Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2019, his junior year of high school, after injuring his pitching elbow that summer. He missed the 2020 season (much of which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic) while rehabbing the injury.

"It was definitely tough, but I think it helped me a lot, honestly, just knowing that I had to do stuff to take care of my body," Smith said. "Before that, I just kind of showed up and pitched. Being able to do that rehab just put in my mind that I’ve got to work really hard for what I want to do."

Smith returned to the mound in 2021 to fire SEVEN no-hitters during his senior season, tying a Texas high school record. A top-100 recruit according to Perfect Game, Smith passed up the 2021 Draft to fulfill his commitment to Arkansas.

The lefty had a pair of strong seasons for the Razorbacks in 2022 and 2023, but his junior season has been by far his best yet. As of June 2, his 2.04 ERA ranked fourth in all of Division I.

"I never really threw slow, but this year I’ve been averaging probably 96 every single outing," Smith told "My slider’s gotten harder. My changeup’s developed into a real pitch. My cutter keeps developing."

Staying in control

As Draft season nears, social media chatter increases. Smith acknowledges he's seen his name come up when baseball fans debate where the lefty will land. Will he be a top-five pick? What about the top 10? Will he be the first pitcher drafted?

For his part, Smith says he tries to block out the noise and do what he does best: dominate on the mound.

"If I see something scrolling on social media, I’ll just get off of it," he said. "I think people get into that and just get in their head at the end of the day. You just try to focus on what’s ahead in the season."

Those around Smith say he's always had that kind of attitude -- even as far back as high school. Robert Ellis, a former Major League pitcher who was Smith's head coach at Bullard in 2021, commended the pitcher for his work ethic in the weight room and his commitment to improving.

"All these things separate you," Ellis told "Not everybody’s willing to have those sacrifices and make those commitments, and I know that he does. It’s a lot of sacrifice. It’s all great players that want to accomplish great things in the game. He has all of those qualities."

Keeping a strict routine

Smith has always been disciplined in his preparation, but for his junior season, he's taken it to another level.

Not only does the left-hander get to the field first thing in the morning (typically by 7:30 or 8 a.m.), but Smith has made it a point for the past year to be in bed before 9 p.m. each night, too.

"It’s been awesome," he said. "I feel really good every single day I wake up. I think that’s the biggest thing that I enjoy the most of, getting good quality sleep and just waking up energized."

Smith said he "feels like an old man" getting to bed so early, but it has paid off in the long run.

"I think if you’re really disciplined with that stuff, it kind of translates to your work at the field," he said. "Little stuff that you wouldn’t think would really benefit you, but having a strict schedule at home kind of translates to the field, too."

On campus, Smith spends plenty of time in the Arkansas weight room, currently taking part in strength and conditioning coach Hunter Bell's "advanced" program. It's a field of study the junior has become passionate about.

"I’m really interested in that," Smith said. "Maybe it’s something I do after baseball."

Boring -- in a good way

Smith readily admits he's "not the most vocal person." Even his father Jeff described him as "quiet and introverted" (albeit "nice as can be") off the field.

But that hasn't stopped Smith from being a leader for the Razorbacks. According to Hobbs, players as "buttoned up" as Smith can seem disconnected from their teams -- but not in this case. The junior was voted a unanimous team captain in 2024, the only unanimous captain Hobbs can recall in his six years in Fayetteville.

"I think a lot of that is a testament to how much people respect him here," Hobbs said. "He continues to earn respect daily in how he operates. ... When he’s pitching, he’s not pitching for the Draft, certainly. He’s pitching for his team."

Off the field, Smith admitted to doing "a lot of nothing" now that the school year is over. Among his favorite non-baseball pursuits, the lefty listed "hanging out with the boys," playing golf and going to the pool. Smith spends most of his time with his girlfriend Katherine and his golden retriever Harley.

"He’s got a dog and his girlfriend, and I don’t know that he does a whole lot else," Hobbs said. "... He’s pretty boring. Most players that are really good are boring, and he’s awesome."