Smith committed to the game in more ways than one
Committing to anything is tough when one spends six months of the year on the road, but Jordan Smith is managing a dual commitment.
The 23-year-old is in the fourth year of his professional baseball career, a commitment that requires nonstop work and devotion. But during the offseason, Smith committed to another act of devotion -- marriage.
Smith married his wife, Ashley, in late November and the couple took a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico for their honeymoon. From his home in Minnesota to honeymooning in Mexico and spring training in Arizona, Smith fit plenty of travelling into his offseason schedule. Now, his home resides in Akron and his travel adventures will be from a bus.
Smith, who spent last season playing in the high-A Carolina League and 2012 with the low-A Midwest League, said he was glad to return to Ohio to open the 2014 season. He enjoys the area and its fans, as well as time with his new wife, who recently joined him in Akron.
Last year, Smith hit .292 with five home runs, 54 RBI, 62 walks and 72 strikeouts through 134 games. The difficult Carolina League, which features just eight teams, is both beneficial and burdensome for players. Opposing pitchers become familiar with hitters’ habits, but Smith said the familiarity works both ways.
“I feel like they definitely get your number early on, but I kind of got their number later on,” he explained. “They learn from you, you learn from them, so I think it’s a good league for that, especially since in the big leagues, you face a lot of the same pitchers. They’ve got your scouting report and you’ve got theirs.”
Smith’s approach to adjust to the familiarized competition was rather simple. “Just keep swinging,” he said. He added that watching video of his at-bats helped, because he could see how opponents pitched to him in preparation of their next meeting.
Smith also said the success he encountered was the result of trusting his coaches and their game plan, something that comes easy to Smith considering his coaches have followed him throughout his career.
Akron RubberDucks’ manager David Wallace has advanced through the organization with the 2011 draft class that began in short-season Mahoning Valley. Since then, Smith, along with 11 other current RubberDucks players, have risen under Wallace’s management.
“That’s been a huge blessing,” Smith said. “He knows us very well and we know what he expects from us as players.”
Smith’s expectations for himself are set on power this year. The tall left-handed hitter said his biggest overall goal for the year is to hit more home runs. Though he has yet to hit one out, he said he’s received no pressure to do so from anyone but himself.
“No one’s in my ear saying, ‘Hit more home runs,’” he explained. “It’s just one of those things I personally want to work on.”
Smith said he’s aiming to hit more home runs by working on turning on pitches in addition to looking for the right pitch to unleash his power. Wallace echoed Smith’s testament to picking better pitches.
“In his at-bats, he’s working on what pitches he’s looking for, even if that means laying off a good pitch early in the count,” Wallace said. “He’s going to stay patient and wait for the pitch that’s in his wheelhouse, put the barrel on it and try to do some damage with it.”
Wallace also noted baseball’s common expectations for large lefties.
“You look at his size and being a left-handed corner outfielder, baseball’s going to tell you that he needs to hit for more power,” Wallace said. “We believe that power will come. He’s definitely shown it.”
Akron’s Canal Park is often where home runs go to die, but Wallace said Smith isn’t boosting his power by swinging for the fences anyway.
“We’re focusing more on the process of his at-bats,” Wallace explained. “It’s about putting good swings on pitches that are in his zone, not trying to swing harder or create more. That power’s there.”
So far this season, Smith has hit .194 with seven RBI, six walks and 20 strikeouts through 21 games. Smith said he knows all players endure success and failure, and he’s learned to take advantage of the high points.
“It’s nice to have your 3-for-4s and 4-for-4s but in the end, you’re going to have bad days,” he said. “You just try to limit those and just ride the highs as long as you can and make the lows very short.”
With a month of the 2014 season in the books, Smith is adjusting to the Eastern League as he adjusts to married life. Now that he’s achieved a dream off the field, he’ll continue his other commitment toward a big league career.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.