Smith’s Second Half Surge Helps Captains Reach Midwest League Playoffs
By Mike Brandyberry
Most minor league players find their first full season as a professional to be a grind, but for Lake County Captains outfielder Jordan Smith it hasn’t seemed that way at all.
“It’s a lot longer season,” Smith said. “I’d say going from college to short season was a grind. I would say this year has gone quicker, it’s more steady and you’re with the same guys for the most part of the season.”
It’s a good thing because his season just got a bit longer for Smith and his Captains teammates. Lake County clinched a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League playoffs and will face off with the Bowling Green Hot Rods on Wednesday evening at Classic Park in Eastlake. The first game of the best-of-three series will be in Eastlake before the Captains travel to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for the final two games of the series.
Smith was a large part of the Captains 40-30 record in the second half of the season. The left-handed hitting outfielder hit .313, with nine home runs and 74 RBIs in his first full season as a professional. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft by the Indians out of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Making the large leap from small-level college play to the professional level has been noticeable for Smith.
“As far as the adjustment I would say there is so much more talent around you,” Smith said. “Coming from a small D-2 school, there is definitely more talent.”
After being drafted by the Indians, Smith went to Short Season-A Mahoning Valley last season where he put outstanding numbers, hitting .300, with 20 doubles and driving in 47 runs. However, he didn’t seem to have the power he had in college or that the Indians expected from him. With a year under his belt, he’s started to find his power stroke.
“Last year I went without one, but this year I’m not trying to hit home runs,” Smith said. “I’m just trying to hit doubles and drive guys in. They want to see me hit home runs, but I’m not trying to hit home runs, they’ll come as long as I keep putting together good at bats.”
The good at bats have come and so has the power. As the Captains have improved from a 31-38 first half to their current Wild Card status, so has Smith’s power surge. He’s hit .329, with six home runs and 47 RBIs in the Captains’ second half of the season. He has solidified himself as the team’s third hitter in the lineup since the All-Star break.
One aspect of Smith’s maturation that he is ahead of the curve on, is his plate awareness. Most minor leaguers at the lower levels struggle with pitch selection and result in strikeouts. However, Smith has only struck out 52 times in 509 plate appearances. Despite his early success, Smith never feels strikeouts are acceptable and is still trying to cut them down.
“I feel like I strikeout a lot,” Smith said. “How many ever you have is too many. When I have two strikes, I just try to put the ball in play and put the pressure on the defense.”
Nicknamed the Milkman because he drinks so much milk, Smith originally was drafted as a third baseman, but 15 errors in 45 games a year ago at Mahoning Valley resulted in to a transition to the outfield. Now that he does not have to concentrate on playing multiple positions, Smith spends his time focusing on becoming a better right fielder. He still feels he could return to third base if the organization needed him to, but focusing on only one position has made his development easier.
“When I was in Mahoning, it was all third base as far as early work,” Smith said. “It’s nice to just have one to work on. I feel like I can go back to third if they want me to, but it’s good to get all my work in the outfield and know I’ll be there or DH.”
With Smith in right field, Luigi Rodriguez in centerfield and Bryson Myles in left field, the Captains have sported an outfield the second half of the season full of Major League potential. Each are considered top 20 prospects in the Indians system.
While the Captains’ outfield may be loaded with potential, all three are getting their first taste of playoff baseball this week. The team has played much better baseball in the second half of the season and could be a tough opponent to fellow Midwest League teams.
If the Captains are to progress out of the quarterfinals of the playoffs, Smith will likely play a big part of their success.
Photo: Matthew White/DTTWLN.com photographer