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After A Rough Start, D-Backs' Pavin Smith Starts Turning A Corner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Admittedly, Pavin Smith’s first full season as a professional didn’t go how he would have liked. The seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft hit just .255/.343/.392 with 11 home runs over the course of a full season at high Class A Visalia.

He knows that the power numbers weren’t what evaluators want to see from a first baseman, and plenty of members of the D-backs’ player-development staff came to try to help him find a solution.

He’s continuing to put their lessons into practice in the Arizona Fall League.

"I think I had a lot of things to work on throughout the year," he said. "I started pretty slow in April, and I had a lot of different hitting coaches try a lot of different things."

Some coaches tried to get Smith to alter his approach. Some tried to get him to tweak his swing mechanics. To find the perfect solution, he mined the best advice from everybody who offered help.

"I took a little bit from each one,” he said, "and a little bit from myself too, because I’m the one in there. I’m the one feeling it. I had to make the adjustments myself.”

Ultimately, Smith decided to close his stance a little bit to help improve his direction at the plate. He felt like he was getting jammed consistently, and this was a way to keep that from happening as often. It also helped him keep his hands inside the ball.

The D-backs have told Smith that they believe his power is going to improve as he gets older and grows into his body. For now, they just want him to continue to barrel the ball as often as possible. If it leaves the yard, it leaves the yard. If not, it’s still solid contact.

Trying to hit for more power was part of the problem, Smith believes, so he went back to what made him so successful at Virginia.

"I went back a little bit to what I was doing there and tried to attack the inside part of the ball,” he said. "I kind of got away from taking it to the opposite field, and it lost a lot of hits for me."

Analytics are becoming a more prominent part of the way players are evaluated and developed, but Smith’s home park put him at a disadvantage in that regard. Visalia doesn’t have TrackMan installed, so he wasn’t able to get instant, quantifiable results.

When he went on the road, however, the information was there.

"Being able to see your swing on video, that definitely helps,” he said. "You can slow-mo it all the way down and there’s something you might not be able to feel but you can see (on video), so I try to write it down now and if I ever start slumping I go look at it.”

Smith finished the season strong, hitting .280/.349/.404 over his final 60 games with Visalia. After a month off, he's started his AFL campaign strong, too, collecting four hits in his first nine at-bats with Salt River and making plenty of loud contact along the way.

If he keeps it up, the AFL could serve as a springboard toward Smith having a big second season as a professional.

Two nights after Forrest Whitley dazzled observers in his AFL debut, fellow Astros prospect J.B. Bukauskas took his turn carving up the opposition in a start at Salt River Field. 

The 15th overall pick in last year's draft started his first professional season slowly and was delayed by an oblique strain but came on strong down the stretch. He spread 59 innings across five levels and finished the year with six innings of two-hit ball with eight strikeouts for Double-A Corpus Christi. 

On Thursday, he whiffed five over 3.1 innings with an enviable, power-packed repertoire. His fastball, which at times featured dazzling late cut life, sat in the mid-90s and touched as high as 98 mph. He also showed his signature slider, which he threw in the upper 80s, and a nasty changeup in the low 90s.

Bukauskas didn't command any of his pitches consistently, but each flashed plus or better during the outing. The changeup, in particular, showed hard, trap-door-type action away from lefthanders.

In the first week of the AFL, Bukauskas and Whitley have been the league's most obvious pitching stars.

Pavin Smith Photo By G Fiume Getty Images

MLB Prospect Report—April 23, 2021

Pavin Smith found the leadoff spot to his liking, Jonathan India joined the home run barrage and plenty more.

NOTES: A’s outfield prospect Luis Barrera just keeps impressing. Over the first three games, he’s shown an intriguing blend of power, speed and aptitude on the field. He was on base three times on Thursday, scored twice and stole a base.

Cubs prospect Trent Giambrone made consistent loud contact in the same game, notching four hits in six trips to the plate. … Keep an eye on Red Sox infield prospect Esteban Quiroz. He’s not the biggest guy in the world at 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, but he packs a punch. He turned on a 94 mph fastball on Thursday for his first home run of the AFL season and was on base twice more.

Braves lefthander Kyle Muller struggled with his command in his inning, but touched 95 mph with his fastball. ... After smacking 51 extra-base hits during the regular season, Astros third base prospect Abraham Toro-Hernandez ripped two more doubles on Thursday night.

Marlins righthander Chad Smith lived in the upper 90s with his fastball, peaking at 99 mph many times. ... Phillies first baseman Darick Hall showed impressive strength on his first home run of the AFL. Out in front of a breaking ball, Hall still managed to pull the pitch with enough force to drive it out over the right field wall.

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