MANCHESTER — The highest-rated prospect in the Blue Jays’ organization who will be on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ opening-day roster?
That would be infielder Kevin Smith, a former Cape Cod League MVP who MLB Pipeline has ranked as Toronto’s No. 7 prospect. There are some pretty good infielders ranked ahead of him — familiar names like Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette — but that doesn’t seem to bother Smith, even though they could be blocking his path to the big leagues.
“I think it’s kind of cool to have those guys in the organization and be able to play with guys like Bo and Vladdy and Cavan (Biggio),” Smith said. “We have Santi (infielder Santiago Espinal) here. It’s fun to have that many infield guys you can learn from that you can and talk to. It kind of makes you step your own game up when you have guys around you who are that good and want the same things that you want. At the end of the day we all talk a lot and we try to learn from each other. Hopefully we’re all up there someday hanging out and helping each other win.”
MLB Pipeline lists Guerrero and Bichette, both of whom played for the Fisher Cats last season, as Toronto’s No. 1 and No. 2 prospect, respectively. Guerrero is MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect and Bichette is ranked No. 11.
Toronto is at No. 5 in MLB Pipeline’s top 10 farm-system rankings entering the 2019 season.
Smith could be New Hampshire’s everyday shortstop, but he has also played third base and second base. Some scouts have said his skills would translate to a position in the outfield as well. He said increasing his range at shortstop as well as improving his defense at third and second were among his goals in the offseason.
“I kind of picked one or two things in every area of my game … where I felt I could improve from last year and just tried to hammer those out every day,” he said. “I want to be in the lineup, whether it’s at third, short, second. I just want to ge out there with the guys and help them win and have a lot of fun.
“I hope I can just be an all-around good ballplayer. Make plays in the field. Maybe make some really good ones, make a lot of routine ones. Get good at-bats. Really try to barrel the ball every time I’m up.”
Smith attended Maryland for three years before turning professional after Toronto selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. He had a .271 batting average, a .312 on-base percentage and a .466 slugging percentage in 61 games with Bluefield in 2017. Bluefield is Toronto’s Rookie League team that competes in the Appalachian League.
He split last season between Class A Lansing and Advanced Class A Dunedin and finished the year with a .302/.358/.528 slash line. He had 25 home runs and 29 stolen bases (in 35 attempts) in 129 games last season.
“I know he had a really good season last year, and what I’ve seen this spring he hasn’t quite hit his stride offensively yet,” Fisher Cats manager Mike Mordecai said. “I guess he’s still making some adjustments. Getting himself back in playing shape and everything. Defensively he’s a really, really good defender. Very accurate arm. Things come easy to him out in the field. I’d say that.”
Smith was named the Cape Cod League’s playoff MVP in 2016, when he helped Yarmouth-Dennis win the league title.
The Fisher Cats will open their season tonight (6:35) against Binghamton. It will be the first game of a seven-game homestand for New Hampshire. Despite his ranking as Toronto’s No. 7 prospect, Smith said there’s plenty of room for improvement in his game.
“I think I go into each season feeling really good, then at the end of the season I’m like, ‘Wow. I have a lot to work on,’” he said. “I don’t think I’m even close to the player I can become. I think every year I’ve gotten better at the things that I’ve wanted to. This year is no different. I’ve paid attention to the stuff I wanted to work on in the offseason. Hopefully it carries into the season.
“It’s not a straight line up. You’re gonna have ups and downs. Things are going to get better and worse. It’s just having the self awareness of what’s getting better and what’s getting worse and improving upon it.”