Smith is finishing strong at end of long minor league season
One of the most common sayings in sports is it’s not how you start, but how you finish. After a dismal first half, the Carolina Mudcats are currently in the middle of a push for the final playoff spot in the Carolina League, and a big reason for that, is star right fielder Jordan Smith.
On the season, the Willmar, Minnesota native has been one of the leaders on the field for the Mudcats, batting .286 with five home runs and 51 RBIs to go along with 18 stolen bases. Smith says he is happy with how the season has played out for him after a rough start in April and May.
“I think it’s gone alright," Smith said. "I’ve tried to be consistent all year. Right now we’re all just trying to finish strong and put us in a position to make the playoffs and hopefully make a playoff run.”
After a slow start to the season from a statistical standpoint, Smith quietly began to find his bat and his numbers began to get better as the season wore on. However, Smith’s best month has clearly been August, as he has batted .365 for the month with seven doubles, a triple, two home runs, and 14 RBIs. Possibly the most impressive statistic for the month is his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), a ridiculous 1.022 for the month, with his patience at the plate also improving over the course of the month, gaining 19 walks compared to just 9 strikeouts.
At this point in the season Smith is just trying to be more consistent at the plate in hopes of helping the team reach the playoffs and win a championship.
“I don’t really know what I’ve done this month," Smith said. "I think the pitchers are probably just getting tired this late in the season, and I’m just trying to take advantage of that. I’m not really doing anything different. I’m just trying to go out there and finish strong and be consistent to then end.”
Mudcats manager David Wallace says Smith’s best attribute is his maturity and the way he approaches the game.
“His maturity and his consistency are great," Wallace noted. "He’s not a guy that has these big emotional highs and lows. He’s really good in the outfield and has good consistent at-bats. He struggled a little at the start of the year, but now he’s up there around .300 which is pretty impressive.”
Smith has been one of the best Mudcats this season at getting on base, which Smith says is his greatest attribute as a baseball player.
“I’m able to get on base a lot,” Smith said. “I’m good at putting the bat on the ball, and I don’t strikeout too much.”
When asked about his worst trait and the area of his game that needs the most work, Smith quickly responded by saying he needs to improve his power. Outfielders are typically thought of as being able to hit for power with a lot of home runs and the ability to drive in a lot of runs. Smith realizes this is an issue, but has a plan to improve his power for next season and beyond.
“I need to hit for a little more power," Smith said. "I need to continue to work on my swing, and make sure I hit the ball out front. Basically, try to turn on balls a little more and drive them more consistently.”
Wallace also sees Smith’s greatest area of weakness as his power, but believes he has it in him to really improve in that department.
“He needs to work on getting his contact point just a tick out front, and when that starts to happen more consistently, you’ll start to see his power numbers jump off the page,” Wallace said. “It’s nothing we’re too concerned about. We know it’s there, it’s just part of his path and his development. He’s got the strength and the bat speed for it to happen. He has one of the most impressive BP’s I’ve seen. Honestly, we’re very confident that will show up.”
It is very common for a player to hit in one position in the lineup all year, but this has not been the case for Smith, who has batted as high as leadoff, or as low as the seventh batter. Most commonly however, Smith has batted in the two hole, where he has been since Lindor was promoted earlier in the year. Smith tries to not let his place in the lineup affect his game.
“Obviously in the two hole, I’m more trying to move the lead runner over, but I try to not let it affect my game," Smith said. "I’m just trying to go up there and do what I need to do to help the team in whatever situation and try to put our team on top at the end of the game.”
Smith has big offseason plans as he is getting married in November. After that though, he says it will be time to get back to work to make sure he can improve next season.
“After getting married and going on the honeymoon, I’ve got to get back into the baseball mindset,” Smith said. “Obviously, I’ll be working hard to get ready to come back and do it all over again. Work on all my flaws and just work hard to work on all my strengths and weaknesses so I can hopefully be in Akron next year.”
Defensively, Smith has been one of the most exciting players to watch in the Carolina League this season.
“As far as growth, I’ve been focusing on playing more consistent, and putting myself in the best position to make plays," Smith said. "I try not to make it too overly difficult on myself and just help the pitcher out.”
Wallace sees Smith’s greatest growth this season defensively, saying his ability to play any of the outfield positions will really help him as his career progresses.
“He has really turned himself into a solid defender out there in the outfield," Wallace said. "I think he could play in the big leagues right now. We’ve had him in right mostly, but now that (Tyler) Naquin is gone, he’s getting some time in center and he can run some balls down with a really strong arm.”
As the season has progressed, Smith has shown better range in the outfield and has thrown out several runners over the course of the year attempting to stretch a single into a double. Smith leads the team in outfield assists at 13, with 12 of those coming in right field and the other in center, two ahead of star center fielder Tyler Naquin.
“Naquin’s arm is tough to compete with, but he’s a great outfielder and a great guy to be around," Smith said. "He made it a lot of fun to play in the outfield with him because he can basically cover everything, so I didn’t have to do a lot of work.”
Smith feels his fellow outfielders have helped him grow more defensively this season than he has in the past because of how talented the group has been all year.
“Naquin is really big on getting good jumps, and I believe that’s the most important thing to being a good outfielder to be able to put yourself in the best position to make the plays,” Smith said. “Bryson (Myles) and Logan (Vick) are both great outfielders too and we talk a lot about what each of us needs to get better at. We pick at each other’s flaws and basically help each other grow that way so we can be the best we can be out there.
Drafted in the ninth round of the 2011 MLB draft, Smith still vividly remembers his draft day experience two years later.
“It was awesome," he recalled. "I was out in the Cape Cod when I decided to sign. So I flew home and had a little draft party with a lot of family and friends there. It was a great time. I just thought it was a cool experience that the Indians wanted me and they thought I had what it takes to play professionally. I was just very thankful and very blessed.”
Smith says the reason for his success and how he is moving up in professional baseball is the coaches he has had and knowing that you are going to fail and his ability to bounce back from that failure.
“Listen to your coaches and play fundamentally sound baseball," Smith said. "The most important thing I’ve learned is knowing you are going to fail. Being able to bounce back from that failure is what makes you a good baseball player, and I’m taking that advice with me for the rest of my career.”
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.