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Baseball America's Daily Dish
Complete Daily Dish Archive
Compiled by Kevin Goldstein and Chris Kline
GENEVA, Ill.--Twins lefthander Alexander Smit is soft-spoken, polite and more that just a little humble. In a age where most big-budget signees spend their first bonus check on an Escalade, or maybe even a house, Smit takes about 10 seconds to think about it before finally coming up with, “Oh yeah. A watch. It was a pretty good watch, though.”
Smit, just 19, is in his first full season with the Twins, and third overall. Signed out of The Netherlands to an $800,000 bonus at 16, Smit represents the first big dip into Europe for an organization that is one of the most aggressive when it comes to acquiring talent from beyond the Western Hemisphere. Howard Norsetter, the Twins director of international scouting, has spearheaded the push, drafting and signing players from Canadians Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie to Australian pitchers Grant Balfour and Mike Nakamura to Smit.
While most professional players take a fairly standardized path to professional baseball, things are a little different when you grow up in The Netherlands.
“I grew up in Eindhoven, a town of about 300,000 about an hour south of Amsterdam,” Smit said in the dugout prior to a game against the Kane County Cougars. “Soccer is big everywhere in Holland, but especially there, where the local team is usually pretty good.” ‘Pretty good’ is an often-used Smit understatement. PSV Eindhoven are the Yankees of the Dutch Eredivisie Soccer League, currently sporting a 23-1-4 record and well on their way to their 18th league title.
Luckily for the Twins, Smit gravitated towards baseball, which is more popular in Holland than most European countries, having produced big leaguers such as Robert Eenhoorn, Rikkert Faneyte and of course Dutch native Bert Blyleven.
“Every town has a Peanut League, which I started when I was six,” said Smit, speaking of the Dutch equivalent of T-ball. “I really liked American baseball, and we could watch the games there on television, especially the playoffs.”
While postseason baseball owns the primetime slot here in the states, once again, things are a little different in Holland. “With the time difference, games started at 1 or 2 a.m. I couldn’t watch all of them, but I always watched the World Series.”
By the time he was an early teen, Smit was a member of the junior national team and excelled both on the mound and at first base. Norsetter first saw Smit when he was 13. At the same age, Smit first saw the possibility of playing professionally. “I was a pretty good hitter, and a pretty good pitcher, so I wanted to come to the U.S. as soon as possible.” Just 16, tall, lefthanded and already touching 90 mph, Smit was much more than just ‘pretty good.’ He became the subject of a bidding war eventually won by Minnesota, who has taken it slow with Smit’s development.
“It’s a different timetable for a player like Smit,” longtime farm director Jim Rantz said. “We started him in the (Rookie-level) Gulf Coast League for 2003, which gave him his first daily structure, with fundamentals in the morning, and games in the afternoon.”
While Smit has struggled in his first two starts for Beloit, giving up 11 hits and 10 runs in five innings, he’s happy with his progress so far. “I’m getting ahead of hitters, I’m just having problems with my curve . . . it will come around.”
Smit’s confidence showed as soon as he arrived in America. Just a few days after he arrived in Florida, Rantz introduced Smit to Blyleven, now a broadcaster with the Twins.
“They spoke in Dutch, which I don’t speak,” Rantz said. “But knowing Bert, and seeing Alexander’s reaction, I’m fairly certain most of it wasn’t suitable for print.”
To learn more about Alexander Smit, you can log onto www.alexandersmit.com, a Website he launched along with a friend who supplied the technical know-how. Not surprisingly, Smit describes the site as, “Pretty good.”
• The Rangers demoted righthander Juan Dominguez to Double-A Frisco despite his 2.77 ERA in two starts with Triple-A Oklahoma. Righthander John Hudgins was promoted from Frisco to replace him in the rotation. RedHawks manager Bobby Jones told The Oklahoman, “Something happened that we’re not talking about,” but Dominguez was late for a game Sunday. The Rangers have taken disciplinary action with Dominguez in the past over makeup and maturity issues, and he got on manager Buck Showalter’s bad side during his brief big league stint in Texas last year.
• Some thought Ben Hendrickson deserved a spot in the Brewers rotation, but to this point he is having a hard time holding his own in Nashville. After getting knocked around for three earned runs and seven hits in 4 and 2/3 innings yesterday, the Brewers’ No. 7 prospect has now allowed 10 earned runs in 15 innings while walking 10.
• Although his bullpen cost him the win last night, Tim Stauffer continues to impress in Portland. The fourth overall pick in 2003 by the Padres, Stauffer did not make his debut until 2004 due to shoulder problems. After fanning seven in seven innings last night, he is now 1-0, 2.37 with 15 strikeouts and only one walk in 19 innings.
• Hagerstown first baseman Mike Carp is adjusting well to his first taste of full season ball. The Mets' ninth-round pick in 2004 out of Lakewood (Calif.) High has a league-leading five homers in his first 30 at-bats and is hitting .267/.368/.800. Carp hit just four homers last season in 191 at-bats in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
• The Yankees are bringing righthander Philip Hughes along slowly, and his stuff his coming along slowly as well. Hughes, the Yanks’ first-round pick last season, picked up his first loss Monday as he gave up two runs in four innings with two strikeouts against Columbus; his fastball topped out around 90 mph. He has a 1.88 ERA through three starts and has 11 strikeouts and four walks in 14 1/3 innings.
• Jonathan Sanchez, a 28th-round selection of the Giants last June, is raising some eyebrows for Augusta. The lefthander struck out 11 in six innings last night against Rome and now has 21 strikeouts and zero walks in 17 2/3 innings this season with an ERA of 1.53. Sanchez, who topped out at 92-93 mph last year in winter ball in his native Puerto Rico, has thrown more in the 87-90 mph range this season.
• Triple-A Richmond righthander Kyle Davies' first two starts were mediocre in comparison to last night's 2-1 win against Louisville. The 21-year-old allowed five runs on nine hits over his first two outings, walking five. But things started clicking Tuesday as Davies turned in his strongest performance of the season. He allowed one run and scattered six hits, struck out five and walked one. But the key to his success was just going right after hitters--something he said he didn't do the first couple times out. "(Pitching coach Mike Alvarez) and I have been working on my approach to the game," Davies told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Instead of being tentative with my pitches, just fire the thing up there." Davies also threw just 96 pitches in the longest start of his career.
• Not even a solid start from righthander Jon Papelbon could keep Double-A Portland undefeated. The Sea Dogs lost for the first time Tuesday, despite Papelbon's nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Papelbon gave up solo shots to Binghamton outfielder Bobby Malek in the second, and second baseman Chase Lambin in the fifth as the Mets handed Portland its first loss of 2005, 3-1. Papelbon, the Red Sox fourth-round pick in 2003 out of Mississippi State, has been pounding the zone over his three starts this season, with a 18-0 strikeout-walk ratio in 16 2/3 innings.
• Double-A Altoona center fielder Rajai Davis has been struggling to make adjustments to the Eastern League, but looked like he figured it all out last night, going 3-for-4 with three steals and four runs scored in an 8-4 win against Akron. Davis is hitting .212 (7-for-33) overall.
• Some scouts thought Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano was out of gas in the Arizona Fall League last October, but he's back with a full tank this season at Double-A New Britain. Liriano struck out 11 in six innings, using a fastball with good movement, hard slider and a much-improved changeup. "His fastball was explosive and he used his changeup," manager Stan Cliburn told the New Britain Herald. Liriano held New Hampshire hitless through 5 1/3 innings. He threw 77 pitches, walked three and induced nine groundouts.
• The best pitching matchup yesterday was in the Southern League, as righthanders Kris Honel (Birmingham) went up against Chad Billingsley (Jacksonville), and while Honel was wild--with six walks-- he still wound up with his first win since 2003. And a good part of that first win in two years was played by Birmingham closer Bobby Jenks, who earned his fifth save of the season. Jenks, a fifth-round pick of the Angels in 2000, has a history of injuries and off-field problems. He was claimed on waivers by the White Sox and after struggling in his first outing, has pitched five scoreless innings.
• One day after High Class A San Jose outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve smacked five extra base hits in a 14-4 victory over Lake Elsinore, teammate Eliezer Alfonzo duplicated the feat in a 14-6 thrashing of High Desert. A journeyman catcher in his 10th pro year who has spent time with the Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs and Marlins systems, Alfonzo went 5-for-5 with three double, two home runs and six RBIs.
• High profile pitchers Chuck Tiffany (Dodgers), Justin Verlander (Tigers) and Phillip Humber (Mets) have been pitching on the same day so far throughout the season, with brilliant results. While that trend continued for Tiffany and Verlander last night, the news wasn’t so good for the Mets’ 2004 first-round pick. Tiffany allowed one hit over six shutout innings in Vero Beach’s 7-0 over Palm Beach to improve to 3-0, 0.56. In 16 innings, the 20-year-old left has allowed just six hits and struck out 24. Verlander, the second overall pick last June, pitched a career-high seven innings, allowing one run on six hits and striking out nine to improve to 2-1, 1.69. Meanwhile Humber, selected one pick after Verlander, was scratched from his scheduled start and is expected to miss up to two weeks with a strained abdominal muscle.
• Cubs outfielder Ryan Harvey showed some signs of like after hitting .212-0-1 with 11 strikeouts in his first eight games. The sixth overall pick in the 2003 draft singled in his first at-bat in Low Class A Peoria’s 10-5 win over Wisconsin, and then homered in his next three, finishing the contest with seven RBIs.
Contributing: John Manuel, Matthew Meyers.