Kevin Smith Closes Hole In His Swing
Shortstop Kevin Smith is always thinking about his game, looking for ways to improve.
"I self-evaluate a lot,” the 21-year-old righthanded hitter said. "Probably more than I should.”
Over the winter, Smith's point of emphasis was obvious. A skilled defender at shortstop and third base, he wanted to cut down the length of his swing as a way to increase both the quantity and quality of his contact. The 2017 fourth-rounder out of Maryland also wanted to improve his approach with two strikes.
"I had a loop in my swing, and I'm not really sure how it got there,” Smith said. "Looking at swings, I can tell when something's off. I was getting way under the ball, coming way up through it, and I really wasn't on plane with it for a while.
"The whole offseason was just trying to work on that ball up, and that was what was giving me trouble. On fastballs up, I’d try to cheat to it and then get exposed with breaking balls away.”
The payoff has been substantial for Smith, who through his first 40 games at low Class A Lansing hit .367/.421/.652 with seven home runs, 20 doubles and 10 stolen bases. More importantly, he slashed his strikeout rate from 24.7 percent last year at Rookie-level Bluefield to 14 percent in the Midwest League. He also improved his walk rate markedly.
At the same time, Smith spiked his power production, which is why the Blue Jays believe his improvements are no fluke, but rather the sustainable product of measured adjustments.
"Really, it was working on (getting to fastballs up), saying, 'If I can drive this pitch through the middle or into the gaps, then I know I'm on time. I know I can hit anything else,' " Smith said.
"Along with that came some swing adjustments that I wasn't really forcing on myself, but they just kind of came to fruition because I was trying to shorten up and get to (the high fastball). Now my swing can handle that pitch and I'm a little more confident the plate.”
Number Of Minor League Pitchers Throwing 100 MPH Decreases In 2018
In conversations with scouts and front office officials during the season many of them mentioned seeing less pitchers with top-of-the-scale fastballs than they had seen in other recent seasons.
>> Righthander Nate Pearson, the lightning-throwing 2017 first-rounder, suffered a fractured ulna after being struck on the forearm by a line drive during his season debut at high Class A Dunedin, his first start after recovering from a spring oblique injury. He will be re-evaluated in mid-June.
>> Righthander Jordan Romano is the first pitcher to ever start a season 7-0 at Double-A New Hampshire. He sported a 1.94 ERA through 46.1 innings in eight starts with an 0.88 WHIP and 44 strikeouts.