Smith Jr. motivated to follow dad's Chi-town success

March 6th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- envisions a moment during the 2022 season where he’s playing at Wrigley Field and his dad is in attendance.

“Hopefully me and him can get a picture together,” Smith Jr. told “Him in the Cubs jersey and me in the White Sox jersey.”

The elder Smith played for the Cubs from 1989-93, finishing second in the ’89 National League Rookie of the Year voting to teammate Jerome Walton. He also contributed greatly to the Cubs’ National League East title that season.

Although rookie status has passed for Smith Jr., he would like to be part of a third straight playoff appearance for the White Sox. The left-handed-hitting outfielder is taking part in Minor League camp as a non-roster invitee to big league Spring Training, but he's not a member of the team’s 40-man roster. He's excited by the potential of being part of a winning team, a goal that eluded Smith Jr. during 47 games with the Blue Jays from 2017-18 after being a first-round selection of Toronto in the 2011 MLB Draft, and over 122 games with the Orioles from 2019-20.

“Yeah, definitely. I’ve never been in that situation,” Smith Jr. said. “Playing with a team that’s favored to be in the playoffs, in the World Series, in the hunt, I’ve always been on rebuilding teams. That definitely helps your level of play, gets you more excited, going to the field knowing you are going to win.”

Smith Jr.’s biggest production came in 2019 when he hit .241 with 13 home runs, three triples, 16 doubles, five stolen bases and 53 RBIs for the Orioles. His ’20 campaign was hampered by testing positive for COVID-19, causing him to miss a significant part of summer camp before the season resumed amid the pandemic.

There are no issues now for Smith Jr., 29, who feels in good physical condition. But getting COVID-19 left him “really just playing catchup” in a 2020 season that featured a home run off Gerrit Cole in Smith Jr.'s first start but also just 72 plate appearances.

“When I got it, I was in a hotel room for like 17 days,” Smith Jr. said. “I knew my body and my swing and my arm and my legs, all that, were not ready to play every day. But I’m a competitor. I was going to definitely go out there and compete every day.

“I lost my taste and smell, and then after I got some of that back and I tested negative, then I had heart trouble. My heart rate was slower than normal, so I had to wait to get cleared. That was another week before I could come back. But after all that because it was so new at the time before the vaccine, I feel pretty good and back to normal. My head is in a good place and my body feels good. I’m just ready to go play whenever that happens.”

A post-lockout White Sox depth chart won’t feature Smith Jr. near the top in right field. Not with Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, Adam Engel and Leury García already on the roster. Not with the White Sox being a candidate to add at the position via trade or free agency, working to strengthen their championship pursuit. But contributions come across the entirety of a season.

“I’m familiar with playing every day at the highest level, getting that experience in Baltimore and playing in Toronto,” Smith Jr. said. “So just really playing my game and not trying to do too much, and I think that came with experience over time. Just playing the game how I know I can play and having fun, and everything takes care of itself.”

If that chance does come when Smith Jr. and his father are together at Wrigley Field or any other big league venue, he won’t be singing the national anthem before the game. His father performed a stirring rendition on July 21, 1989, at Wrigley Field, and then played left field against the Giants.

“That’s one thing I’m not going to do,” said Smith Jr. with a laugh. “I’m not going to sing the national anthem any time soon. He can throw me a first pitch, but I’m not going to sing.”