BEING RANKED among the top prospects in a major league system is both a blessing and a curse.
While it’s nice to be considered one of the most promising up-and-coming players in the sport, that honor comes at a price. There is constant pressure to perform at a high level and, when you don’t, it always seems as though people talk more about that than when you’re at your best.
Toronto Blue Jays No. 5 prospect Kevin Smith is experiencing that a bit right now. Since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 MLB draft, the Troy, N.Y., native hit .271 in 61 Rookie ball games that year, and he hit .302 with 25 home runs and 93 RBIs between Single-A Lansing and Advanced-A Dunedin in 2018. This year, his first in Double-A, hasn’t gone as smoothly.
Through Friday, Smith has hit .169 and has struck out more than twice as often as he’s recorded a hit (39 hits, 82 strikeouts). It’s been a frustrating year, but Smith is staying positive.
“I kind of see every day as a clean slate,” he said following Thursday’s loss to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. “So, coming in here and being able to work on what you want to work on and then going into the game with fresh at-bats (helps). There’s a new hero every night and I’m just trying to help the team win and make good plays on defense. We have guys that are having really good seasons (at the plate) and when you see that you kind of just want to follow that up.”
It hasn’t been all bad for Smith, to be sure. He’s first on the team in home runs with seven and sits in fourth place in runs scored at 22. It’s the average and strikeouts that are unappealing. He and hitting coach Donnie Murphy are doing what they can in the cage to rectify that problem.
“We’re just working a lot on and trying to figure out what it is,” Smith explained. “We’re both getting frustrated, but that’s kind of baseball sometimes. That’s kind of the fun of it. You’re going to have ups and downs, but you try to limit the downs as much as possible and get back on the right track. Just getting my timing down and not feeling so rushed at the plate. Trying to see the ball hit the bat better and trying to keep things as simple as possible.”
Smith showed a lot more patience at the plate on Thursday, seeing an average about four or five pitches over the course of his three at-bats. He ended the game 0-for-3, but he hit an absolute rocket to left field that just missed getting over the head of the defense. Rather than being upset about getting robbed of at least a double, Smith was pleased with the outcome.
“That’s baseball,” he said. “It’s going to happen here and there. The more times you line out you’ll get some hits in there. Lineouts are good and you just try to do it again and again and hopefully they fall in somewhere.”
The second half of the season is still in its infancy, leaving Smith with time to turn things around.
“(I want to do) whatever we need to do to help the team win in the second half,” he said. “Whatever that takes. Getting guys in, getting a few more RBIs and picking up my teammates.”
Some Fisher Cats alumni returned to the area for a series in Boston this weekend with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio making their first appearances at Fenway Park.
Guerrero hit second in the lineup in Friday’s opener, finishing the night 1-for-3 against Red Sox ace Chris Sale — including a single and a strikeout — and 1-for-5 overall.
The 20-year-old phenom hasn’t gotten off to the hot start most people believed he would when he was called up to the majors in late April. Through Friday he’s hitting .247 (43-for-174) with seven home runs and 19 RBIs. He also hadn’t homered in 13 games.
Baseball’s former No. 1 prospect received some sage advice on Friday morning, though.
“Basically, the same advice that my dad always gave me — keep working very hard every day,” he told MLB.com, through a translator, when describing his conversation with Sox legend David Ortiz. “It’s not to make it to the big leagues; it’s keep working hard to stay in the big leagues.”
Guerrero said he hoped to visit Ortiz, who is at Massachusetts General Hospital recovering from a gunshot wound, on Saturday.
“We have a great relationship,” Guerrero said. “Thank God, he sounds very good. He feels very well right now. And that’s all the Dominican wants, and all baseball wants, is for him to feel very well.”
According to multiple reports, Guerrero is expected to compete in the Home Run Derby on July 8. Perhaps Ortiz, who won the contest in 2010 and ranks fourth in all-time home runs in the event with 77, will have a few suggestions for the young slugger.
Guerrero’s father, Vladimir Sr., won the Derby in 2007 with his then-8-year-old son on hand.
As for Biggio, he, too, is off to a slow start, though he does already have a pair of two-homer games under his belt. The first occurrence came in a 12-3 win over Baltimore on June 13 and the second four days later in a 10-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Biggio is hitting .203 in 69 ABs.
The Nashua Silver Knights have rebounded from a slow start, winning seven of their last 10 games and six-straight through Friday to improve to 10-8 on the season.
Bedford’s Patrick Harrington has been solid in each of his last three starts on the mound, going at least five innings in all three and earning two wins along the way. He’s 2-1 overall in four starts, logging 19 1/3 innings of work, striking out 19 and allowing 15 hits. He owns a 2.32 ERA.
Derry’s George Welch has also pitched well in relief. In six appearances he’s pitched to a 0.81 ERA over 11 innings, setting down a whopping 24 batters on strikes while surrendering three hits. The Saint Joseph’s hurler has one save under his belt and has a 12.00 strikeout to walk ratio.
Stratham’s Kyle Ball is off to a good start with the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene Swamp Bats and, other than his .316 batting average (12-for-38), has impressed on the basepaths. In nine games, the Stetson University infielder has already stolen six bases while being caught once. His half dozen swiped bags are tops on the team.
NH Baseball appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Tim MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org.