AFL Spotlight: Jordan Smith
The “AFL Spotlight” is a weekly feature piece on a player from the Cleveland Indians farm system that is participating in the Arizona Fall League. League play wraps up on November 15th. Here are the previous 2014 spotlight pieces on other Indians players: Grant Sides, Louis Head and Nick Maronde
To say that 2014 was not kind to outfielder Jordan Smith is an understatement.
Smith, 24, hit a bit of a hiccup this past season at Double-A Akron where he hit a career worst .248 with 2 homers, 50 RBI and .631 OPS. Considering that coming into the season he was a career .303 hitter with a .793 OPS over his three-year pro career, the performance was as much of a disappointment to him as anyone else.
“It was kind of a humbling year for me,” Smith said. “I need to regroup and get ready to battle back next year.”
Smith was on some kind of roll going into the season. He was a top 20 prospect in the system and looked to have a bright future in the big leagues. While the potential is still certainly there for him, that once brightly shining light is now flickering a little.
“I started off really slow,” Smith noted. “I never really completely turned the year around with a hot spell. It is just such a tough game. It was just one of those years I need to put behind me, and get ready for next year, stay positive and keep working.”
As Smith noted, he got off to a slow start - though this was not much of a surprise as he is a notorious slow starter. In the past he has survived cold April starts at Low-A Lake County in 2012 (.255 AVG, .767 OPS) and High-A Carolina in 2013 (.233/.600) to have big seasons. But last year at Akron he got off to a start where he was in a deep freeze hitting .200 with a .486 OPS in April and it continued into May (.202/.498). He picked it up in June (.273/.712) and July (.333/.832), but did not finish well in August (.207/.550).
Smith doesn’t know why he gets off to such slow starts, but recognizes that it is something he needs to address and try and figure out.
“I don’t know what it is,” Smith pondered. “I definitely think I need to switch up my offseason training. I am going to go to Florida this offseason so I can have a better run into spring training. I will be working out and hitting together with Todd Hankins. I don’t know if just having to hit in the cage and not being able to do a lot outdoors stuff [in Minnesota] has affected my start or what it is, but I definitely need to get off to a better start as it will make it a lot easier on me and the team.”
Adversity can be a good thing sometimes. Some players will breeze their way up through the ranks in the minors only to have their first struggles in the Major Leagues and not know how to recover. Others will have success in the lower levels of the minors only to hit a snag once they get into the upper levels. While an organization prefers their prospects always perform well, they can learn a lot from how a player handles adversity and how they respond to it.
“I think adversity is a good thing if you just look at it right,” Smith said. “Obviously I am not just going to go under a rock and hide just because I had a down year. I think it is going to be a great motivator going forward. It wasn’t the year I wanted, but I will use it and it will help me going forward.”
The Indians still believe in Smith’s potential and sent him out to the Arizona Fall League to get some experience in the high profile league and begin his preparation for next season. He and the Indians are still working on some adjustments to his swing in order to get the bat head out quicker and make more consistent, hard contact.
“There is definitely a plan for me so I just need to trust the process,” Smith said. “Obviously them sending me here means that they still care about me. I am just thankful to be a part of the Indians organization. It has just been a blessing. I think there is some great talent here, so I think it is kind of cool to be able to prove that you can play with all the best pitchers and players around you. I am just out here trying hone in on some skills and the overall game. It is definitely a launching pad for next year.”
If Smith can resurrect his bat next season, he certainly has all of the other tools to impact a team at the Major League level. For a guy listed at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds he moves rather well in the outfield as he is an above average defender with a strong arm. His athleticism, decent speed, good defense and makeup are all big league caliber.
In fact, Smith has done a solid job when playing center field and has shown the versatility to handle all three outfield spots. His growth as an outfielder has been very noteworthy, especially considering he was drafted as a third baseman and moved to the outfield full time after his first pro season.
“Ever since I have been moved to the outfield I have always felt very comfortable,” Smith said. “At third base you are so close to the action and in the outfield I feel like you can take a deep breath and relax. When we lost [Tyler] Naquin [to injury in June] they moved Ollie Linton up and he played quite a bit of center, but once in a while I moved to center. It is something I am getting better at and is definitely something that I need to work at day in and day out.”
Prior to going out to the Arizona Fall League, Smith went to Goodyear to participate in Instructional League. He got a chance to get some extra work to help him get ready not just for the AFL season, but the offseason as well.
“I am getting old,” Smith joked. “I went to my fourth Instructs before here and I felt like it was yesterday. I have definitely learned a lot since then and I think I have made myself a better player because of all the coaches the Indians provide us with.”
After a season that did not meet his expectations, Smith knows that there will be no rest for the weary once the AFL season ends next weekend. He has to get right back at it and work even harder this offseason to prepare himself for next season, one he hopes to play a lot better.
“I would like to say that I want to go on vacation, but I will get back into the gym and get in the cage right away,” Smith said. “You have to get back and get going right away and get after it every single day. I have to come to spring training ready. It definitely sneaks up on you. With the holidays and whatever else the offseason goes quick. . By the time New Year’s comes, it is like a fast track right to spring training. I definitely have to plug away in the weight room to get bigger, stronger and faster, and be ready to do it all over again next year.”
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Michael Brantley spent 6 years in the Minors.
In his first AA season he hit .257, 0 HR.
In his first 4 Minor League seasons he hit a total of 53 2B & 6 HR.
Brantley's 6 year totals: 2B-87, 3B-11, HR-16, RBI-223, Avg.- .303
Jordan's 4 year totals: 2B-96, 3B-18, HR-16, RBI-225, Avg. - .288
Looks like we might have another MVP candidate in the making!
If he continued to hit .300 while moving up a level each year, you could argue that he might develop into a Michael Brantley by age 27 or so, but his lost 2014 season really throws cold water on those hopes.
I'm certainly rooting for him, but its pretty much now or never, as he'll be 25 in July. He needs a good start and a great season at AA this year, and maybe he can get up to AAA by the end of the year. Plus, he needs to start hitting some doubles and homers. He's never going to have Branyan-type power, but he's going to have to start showing that he can pile up some extra base hits...
I agree that a little "adversity" can be a good thing, but at some point 2 homers and a .248 average can't be called good adversity. It's more like...just not very good...I look forward to seeing how he responds and wish him the best.