Smith, 8-4, had pitched 104.1 innings in 14 games as the top starter for the Lipscomb Bisons this past season. He was named first team All-Atlantic Sun Conference and finished fourth in the nation in strikeouts with 124.
The Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 21st round, the 637th player selected in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.
The Reds had monitored his work closely in Billings, especially his innings pitched total. In 12 games with Billings in the rookie Pioneer League Smith had pitched 21 innings in 12 games. He had posted a 2.14 earned run average and had struck out 28 batters.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” Smith said. “They were limiting my innings because I threw so much in the spring at school. I figured I would stay in Billings.
“One day during a rainout I was called into the manager’s office. He told me I was moving up.”
Smith made his debut for the Dayton Dragons in the Midwest League Friday night. He threw 2.1 innings and gave up two hits in a 2-1 loss to the Lansing Lugnuts. He also walked two and struck out three.
“I felt good,” Smith said. “It had been about five days since I had thrown so my arm was pretty fresh.”
Smith, who was a fifth-year senior for the Bisons, has viewed the minors as a classroom. He spends eight or nine hours a day at the ball park working on various aspects of his game.
In addition to DeShields, he worked with pitching coach Bob Forsch at Billings. With Dayton he is playing for manager Todd Benzinger and pitching coach Tony Fossas. All are major league veterans.
“I’m just trying to learn something new every day,” Smith said. “They are all great guys and they all know the game really well. I go out and pitch my game and do what is comfortable for me.
“They are going to let me do what I have been doing this year. Then maybe in spring training they will make a couple of adjustments.”
Primarily a starter for the Bisons throughout his college career, Smith admits the move to the bullpen has been a challenge.
“I have to get ready earlier,” Smith said. “And there is the unknown of when you are going to be pitch. You have to be ready all the time. When you go into a game you usually go in big situations.
“As a starter you create your own situations. I’ve gotten used to it pretty quick. I really haven’t had a choice.”
Smith has apparently caught the attention of the Reds organization.
“The coaches have told me I have been throwing the ball well and they like what they have seen,” Smith said. “They definitely like that I can locate breaking balls in any count and fast balls in any count.
“I have confidence in the way I am going to pitch and they definitely like that about me. To make this move has been a confidence booster for me. And the Reds have confidence in me even though I wasn’t a top five round or top 10 round draft pick.”
Smith thinks that staying an extra year with the Bisons was also a plus.
“I think having that extra year of college and kind of being the leader of the team gave me some experience that I needed,” Smith said. “It definitely helped me to mature.”
He found out quickly that he enjoys earning a paycheck for playing the game. He doesn’t have to attend classes, but he admits there is a different kind of grind to being a minor league player.
“Sometimes it has a summer ball feeling with long days, playing in front of good crowds and kids asking for autographs,” Smith said. “But when it comes to pay day it doesn’t get any better than this to get paid to play baseball.”
Smith isn’t certain what the Red have planned for him in the offseason.
“I may not go anywhere this year because I threw so much at school,” Smith said. “I may go to the instructional league next year. I will do whatever they tell me to do. I’m not sure how it is going to be this winter.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.