Cycle just the latest triumph for Jordan Smith in second half
RubberDucks outfielder heats up with summer weather in effort to silence critics
It's the top of the ninth in Reading with the score tied at four between the Fightin' Phils and the RubberDucks. With runners at the corners and two down, outfielder Jordan Smith steps up to the plate hoping to give his team the lead.
Sounds like the ideal heroic baseball fantasy, but while he may not be thinking about it at the time, Smith is just one hit shy of a momentous feat.
“It didn’t really dawn on me," Smith said after hitting for the cycle last Sunday, "Even going up in my last at-bat, I wasn’t thinking ‘try to drive this ball for a triple’ or anything too crazy. We had runners at first and third and it was tied at four in the eighth, so I just wanted to bring in the guy on third."
He obviously did better than bring in the runner from third as he ended up driving in both runs and found himself standing on third base with a cycle now under his belt.
"They threw me a changeup first pitch and I was lucky enough to be able to pull it down the right field line. Once I touched second I realized this could actually happen," Smith admitted.
Jordan Smith is not one to brag. In fact, the Minnesota native is hesitant to draw any kind of attention to himself on or off the field. Instead, he strives to quietly do his job the best he can and let the results speak for themselves. The player Smith admired most growing up followed a similar game plan.
"I really liked Cal Ripken Jr.," said Smith, "He was just a class act. He was always healthy and always on the field doing his job. You didn’t really hear a lot about him off the field, which I liked.”
Born on July 5th, 1990 in Willmar, Minnesota, Jordan Smith played high school ball at Willmar High School becoming the first professional baseball representative in school history. Collegiately, Smith enrolled at St. Cloud State as a sports management major.
In 2011, Smith was selected by Cleveland in the ninth round of the draft.
"Obviously being drafted by them isn’t really your choice," Smith reminisced, "But I’ve really enjoyed them and really enjoyed getting to know the staff and the players. It’s been a real blessing."
Smith reported to the Low-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers, where he batted an even .300 with 20 doubles, a triple and 47 RBI in 65 games. He also showed tremendous plate discipline drawing 35 walks against only 30 strikeouts and getting on base at a .403 clip.
He started out his pro career as an outfielder and third baseman with the Scrappers playing predominantly at the hot corner (45 games) compared to the outfield (19 games). He has since established himself in the outfield and proven to be capable of playing all three positions.
“I miss third some days, I guess," Smith admitted, "But I really enjoy the outfield. It’s a good fit for me and I’m really enjoying it.”
Over the next two seasons, ascended through the Tribe farm system playing one affilliate each year and batting .304 with 79 combined extra-base hits, including 14 home runs, and 128 total RBI. He also implemented his speed into his game recording 27 stolen bases in 39 attempts between Single-A Lake County and Advanced-A Carolina.
Once he was assigned to the AA level in Akron to start the 2014 season, however, Smith began to struggle at the plate as he batted only .201 during April and May with only seven total extra base hits, which did not include any long balls, and 14 RBI. Additionally, Smith's .252 OBP in that span left room for improvement.
RubberDucks manager Dave Wallace was never too concerned about Smith's struggles, though.
“I think there’s some natural adjustments that I think he’s had to make at this level," Wallace explained, "There were some areas and limitations in his swing that he was able to get away with in A-ball. And once you get to this level, everyone’s got to make some type of adjustments no matter what your past has been."
Smith didn't allow his early season woes to get him down either.
“There’s a lot of failure in this game and I think you’ve just got to accept that," Smith said, "It’s a tough game. I just continue to grind out at-bats and I’m just trying to help this team win.”
Over the course of the next couple months, however, the outfielder not only celebrated his 24th birthday, he began to find his groove again on offense batting .303 with 17 extra-base hits, including his first two career AA home runs, 26 RBI and a much-improved .349 OBP.
Dave Wallace isn't surprised by the improved performance of Smith, however.
“It’s really been a mentality thing," Wallace explained, "He’s just being a little more aggressive on some fastballs earlier in the count that he’s getting and also, he’s shortened his path to the ball a little bit. With Jordan’s hand-eye coordination, good things are going to happen when he does that.”
These adjustments have allowed the outfielder to make better contact and hit the ball where it's pitched. The results speak for themselves, particularly in July where he hit .333 in 28 games, which included a 10-game hit streak and hitting for the cycle.
Even with his improved hitting, one of the criticisms of Smith this season has been his lack of power. Even though he has played a lot of center field following Tyler Naquin's injury, he projects to be primarily a corner outfielder, which is a power-demanding position. Plus, with his size and stature at 6' 4" and 205 lbs, one would expect him to have the ability to drive the ball more.
“We just feel like if he shortens that path to the ball a little bit, he’s going to catch contact out in front. We know the power’s there. I mean, it’s there in batting practice and we’re confident it’ll show up in the game," Dave Wallace assured.
Is Smith thinking about the future and the possibility of being a major leaguer? Of course, but he's more focused on the current task at hand.
“It’s a crazy game," said Smith, "I’m just enjoying it day-to-day. There’s good days and there’s bad days and you’ve just got to stay consistent and continue to go out there and do the best you can. It’s been a lot of fun playing with all these guys. The fan support has been awesome, so I’ve really enjoyed that."
When the day does come, however, and Smith gets the call, what can Tribe fans expect from him?
“I’m going to go out there and have fun every day and hopefully the fans enjoy what they see,” Smith affirmed.
Much like the great Cal Ripken Jr., Smith carries himself as a quiet professional and focuses on his work on the field. Will his recent success continue and could we see some more pop out of his bat? Considering his work ethic and commitment to this game, I firmly believe it's not a question of "if", but more a question of "when".
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
With no power and being in the same system with Ramsey, Frazier, Moncrief, and Naquin, it's going to be tough, especially with Brantley established in either left or center for another four years or so. Maybe he'll develop some power at he gets older, similar to what Brantley is doing this year. There's also Bradley Zimmer, this year's top pick. Smith is going to have to make a quantum leap forward to get ahead of the pack.
He looks like a 4th outfielder to me.
Within the next couple of years, if not sooner, we'll be ridding ourselves of Dickerson, Bourn, Murphy and Raburn, so these young outfielders will get their shot.
I still say they should move Chisenhall to right field to open up 3rd base for Urshela.