Smith set for double duty

Like most at Swayze Field, Matt Smith has participated in baseball his entire life. He has hit, thrown and played catch, but during the last year, Smith spent time learning new things – at new positions.

The redshirt freshman will be the first to tell you that he just wasn't ready last season. The offensive potential and the electric right arm have always been there, but Smith needed some fine-tuning. The initial thought of sitting out a year is difficult for any player contemplating a redshirt, but 12 months later, the two-way athlete is beginning to enjoy the light at the end of the tunnel.

"It is disappointing at first, but you know how you are doing and can see it coming," Smith said. "It was tough, but there is no need in wasting a year. The redshirt was a good thing for me because I have gotten a lot better as a player, an all-around player.

"I had to learn because I was lazy last year I got discouraged at points and would think about it being so much work. I'm sure that goes through a lot of guys' heads. But at the same time, redshirting works on your mental game as much as your physical one."

Smith starred as an outfielder in high school and pitched occasionally due to his plus-plus arm strength and in spite of his lack of mechanics. There was also the labrum surgery during his sophomore season that served as a setback on the mound. The Ole Miss coaching staff was excited by Smith's ability and wanted to look at him at the plate and also throwing toward it. The supposed work in progress has come around quite nicely.

"When I got here, Bianco and them thought I had a good arm and could develop into a reliable pitcher," Smith noted. "We worked on mechanics all last season, and now I feel like a pitcher and not just someone that is attempting to throw heat by people. I didn't have a curve ball or anything when I got here."

While the mound time was about learning to pitch, the one constant was that Smith could hit. And as the adage goes, if you can hit, then they will find a place for you. He is a prime example of that discernible fact.

The outfield has been recently overrun with depth and experienced players, so Smith is now spending most of his time battling Cullan Kight at first base. The two have distanced themselves from freshman Cliff Vaughn and even the loser could see at-bats at designated hitter.

The transition to infield began slowly during last season, and he saw his first game action at the position over this past summer with the Delaware (Ohio) Cows of the Great Lakes League. The Rebel coaching staff contacted the Cows with special instructions.

"Over the summer, the coaches called my summer team and asked them to move me to first base because I would need to develop at that position for this season," Smith remembers. Those games helped a lot because I had never played first before. This is the first time I've put in significant time there."

But that time is increasing and being cherished after Smith was unable to help out during games last season. The work at different spots adds one more versatile athlete to Ole Miss' arsenal.

"I am looking to play and show Coach I'm ready to contribute. The wait was tough, but now it is time to perform."

On first and on the mound. On a daily basis.

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