DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays No. 7 prospect Kevin Smith had about as good a first full season as a player can have in 2018. The University of Maryland product, who was the club’s fourth-round pick in 2017, played across two levels of Class A ball and finished with a
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays No. 7 prospect Kevin Smith had about as good a first full season as a player can have in 2018. The University of Maryland product, who was the club’s fourth-round pick in 2017, played across two levels of Class A ball and finished with a 20-20 season and a .302/.358/.528 line.
Blue Jays player development staff rave about Smith’s makeup and work ethic as much as they do his tools. Not one to rest on the laurels of his huge 2018 season, Smith has been hard at work to prepare for moving to the upper levels, and not just at the plate. The infielder had only played shortstop as an amateur, but he has been hard at work improving his defensive versatility. He played three infield spots in 2018, and that’s bound to continue.
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“It’s been fun, playing third, playing second, learning different footwork,” Smith said. “Obviously at third, you drop step a lot more than at short, where you’re trying to attack everything. The angles are different, but the ultimate goal is to pick it up and throw it. You just try to get more instincts every day and the more innings you get at different places, you kind of get more comfortable.”
“It makes it easier for us when you have a kid like Kevin who is really smart and he knows what he needs to do every day,” said Blue Jays Minor League infield coordinator Danny Solano, who regularly does early work with him this spring.
Smith takes a lot of ground balls from his knees so he can focus on his hands. The objective is get used to fielding the ball and bringing it to the center of his body for an easier transition to throw.
When Smith plays shortstop, his natural position, he doesn’t use the drop step as much. When he’s there, he's usually attacking the ball. But the drop step is a useful tool at the hot corner, and he works on it daily.
Smith’s objective in doing all this work is so it becomes routine, so when he does slide over from short or second to third, he no longer has to think about using the drop step.
Smith will take a handful of those rolling grounders to get his feet moving and to work on coming through the ball. During his first full season, he worked a lot on his backhand, the play in the hole from short. Now he’s really focusing his work to his glove side, improving his angles toward first base on slow rollers and his footwork on harder balls hit up the middle.
“Some will be short, some will be a little harder, the bounces are different, just trying to change it up so that it’s more game-like and you have to read it right off the bat,” Smith said. “Bringing him in a little closer makes it a little harder, you don’t have much time to read it, really just try to make it as game-like as possible and work on seeing it after he hits it and taking my route.”
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.