In order for someone to improve, they need to see their low points and find a way to improve from that. In 2014, Double-A Akron outfielder Jordan Smith discovered first-hand what it felt like to be overcome by the competition. After hitting .293/.370/.402 with High-A Carolina, he followed up in his first season with the Rubberducks hitting .248/.300/.331.
Smith, 24, was drafted by the Indians in the ninth round of the 2011 June Amateur Draft by the Cleveland Indians. Smith is a 6’4” and 235 pound outfielder who’s been primarily playing right field for the RubberDucks. Usually this position is reserved for a player who can smack a ton of home runs, or at least hit for decent power. While Smith has never really panned out to be the power hitter that everyone though he would be, he’s been consistent of keeping his ISO over .100. At High-A Carolina in 2013, he hit 29 doubles, 6 triples, and 5 home runs. Granted, the home run count is bound to be lower due to the Carolina league not being a high home run league, but then comparing those numbers to his first season in Akron, it doesn’t look so great. He hit 2 home runs, 24 doubles, and 4 triples.
Going into the offseason, Smith understood that he needed to improve from the year before. With the amount of outfielders that are log jammed in the Indians system, in order to make any progression up through the ranks, he needs to make sure he stands out amongst the others. Power and consistency was something he wanted to address and improve upon coming into 2015.
“I went to Florida and worked out. I think it was good to get outside to train outside. Being from Minnesota it gets kind of tough in the winters. I think that was a good thing to do, head down there and be able to hit outside,” Smith said.
So far in 2015, Smith is hitting .252/.344/.363 with 5 home runs, 14 doubles, and 3 triples in 262 at bats. He already has more home runs this season, and only ten less doubles before hitting the halfway point of the season. Smith credits his offensive upgrade this season to work with the coaches, and extra time in the batting cages.
I always work hard in the offseason, so coming in I was hoping that would help,” Smith said. “Other than that, just working in the cage with Tony Mansolino and Jimmy Ricon, just working hard with those guys and just grinding it out and see if we can get those numbers to continue to go in the upward direction.”
Just to show how his power has improved, in 2014 Smith had an ISO of .083, while in 2015 he’s boosted it up to .111. He’s also finding a way on base more this season. Even though his strikeout rate has risen to 17.9% compared to 16.5% last season, he’s also raised his BB/9 to 11.6 compared to 6.6 in 2014. That’s a whole 5 point difference!
Since the promotion of Tyler Naquin to Triple-A Columbus, Smith has been finding himself covering centerfield more often than in right field. He’s also been slotted into the leadoff spot more often, compared to batting fifth or sixth like he has in the past. Smith brings the mentality to the field that Michael Brantley did back in 2013 when he played in every spot of the lineup that season, except the nine hole. He’s willing to play wherever he can to get his at bats, and to help the team.
“Wherever Wally and the guys think I’ll help the most is where I want to be,” Smith said.
This type of mentality is what managers expect their players to have coming to the field. While not everyone is as willing as Smith is to play wherever, it brings ease to a managers mind that he has a player that is ready to go wherever he needs to be.
While the RubberDucks have been playing solid baseball, they got a nice boost from Smith in their most desperate time. On June 22, the RubberDucks were facing the Erie SeaWolves and were tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Smith went to lead off the inning, and smacked his fifth home run season in walk-off fashion.
“I was the leadoff guy, so I was really just trying to get on base and get something rolling in the ninth to get out of there, to be honest. I got a slider in, and did what everyone wants to do and hit a walk-off,” Smith said.
With Naquin gone, Smith has a big role to fill in center. Providing a spark is exactly what he should be doing at the top of the lineup. Alongside Smith, the RubberDucks also have Bryson Myles and Anthony Gallas in left and right field respectively. Smith needs to continue his ability of getting on base at the top of the lineup. With Gallas, Erik Gonzalez, and Ronny Rodriguez, among others, batting behind him, the RubberDucks should have no issues bring Smith home. As long as he continues to grind out at bats, Smith could see himself really bouncing back from 2014.
“There’s definitely things I’m working on day in and day out. This games so hard, it’s just going out there every day and competing and being the best player that I can. Doing whatever it takes to move forward and help the guys around you.”