Smith latest catcher climbing Dodgers' ladder

No. 8 prospect takes another step at MLB Rookie Career Development Program

January 11th, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- For decades the Dodgers have been known for developing pitchers, but they need catchers to throw to, and the organization is now deep there as well, with four listed by MLB Pipeline among the system's top 25 prospects.

already has made a Major League cameo. Keibert Ruiz is rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 5 catching prospect in the game. Connor Wong was taken in the third round last year.

And the Dodgers tipped their hand at the recent MLB Rookie Career Development Program by sending Will Smith.

No, not that Will Smith.

"I get that a lot," the 22-year-old catcher said of the teasing that results when you have the same name as a multi-talented Hollywood entertainer.

The Dodgers' Smith -- their No. 8 prospect -- does his entertaining with his bat, glove and arm. Don't be misled by the .232 batting average he posted last year at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. That season was interrupted by a broken hand. Fully healed, Smith was sent to the Arizona Fall League for some catch-up at-bats, and all he did was hit .371 with a 1.017 OPS in 73 plate appearances.

Smith, taken with the 32nd overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of the University of Louisville, looks back on 2017 as a breakthrough.

"I learned how long a season is," he said. "You get a taste of it the summer after you're drafted, but the first full season, from going through Spring Training, it's long. But it's better prepared me for next year, knowing the length of the season, just learning not to get too high or too low, when you're doing well and when you're not doing well, just staying even keel the whole year."

Smith was joined at the four-day orientation by Dodgers prospects Mitchell White, Dennis Santana and (since-traded) Trevor Oaks. The program is a joint venture between MLB and the MLB Players Association.

"I honestly had never heard of it, not even locker-room talk," Smith said of the program, which was held just outside Washington D.C. last week. "It's a really cool experience, last night going to the Capitol. Today, listening to speakers, gaining knowledge of the transition of going from the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues. It's incredible how valuable it is."

The Kentuckian grew up a Red Sox fan.

"I can remember in 2004 talking to my grandpa and they were down, 3-0, in the [American League Championship Series] and they came back," said Smith. "He said there was a zero percent chance they could win, and I was like, 'You just wait and see.' That really taught me to keep playing the game every day. Kind of translates to now, where just win that day, just win that game."

Smith knows that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had more than a little to do with Red Sox history that October.

"Haven't had that conversation yet," said Smith. "Looking forward to it."