The amateur draft is often unpredictable, but many players get an inkling of what to expect based on the teams that interview and scout them most aggressively.
"I had an idea of which teams I could possibly go to," confided Smith. "I knew it all depended upon who they took earlier. It was a lot different than I expected, but for the good."
In fact, it was so good for Eric Smith that he was the highest draft selection for a University of Rhode Island product since 1984.
"It means a ton," Smith said of that distinction. "That program did a lot this year. We had three other kids selected, so it's a great honor to lead that pack of kids."
Rhode Island's Nick Greenwood, Dan Rhault, and Luke Demko, joined second-round draft pick Eric Smith as the second, third, and fourth Rhode Island players taken in the 2009 MLB First Year Player Draft. Greenwood was selected by the San Diego Padres (414th, 14 round) while Rhault was picked by the Tampa Bay Rays (799th, 26th round), and Demko went to the San Francisco Giants (867th, 29th round). The quartet doubles the previous high of URI draftees in one year.
Needless to say, Smith feels like he owes a lot to the teammates and coaches who shared in his success. He credits his time in college for learning many lessons as a pitcher.
"Learning the game more, learning to be more mature - both physically and mentally," listed Smith. "Learning that you can't be mad about every hit you give up; you can't get mad about the little things."
Prior to the draft, Smith was partly tempted to return to Rhode Island for his senior year because of his positive experience there. Buoyed by his high selection, however, Smith now thinks that going pro might be what's best both for him and for the representation of the University of Rhode Island.
"At this point, I think I'm ready to go play," Smith decided. "I think everyone else knows I'm ready, so I think I'm going to go play [professionally]."
Smith's road to get to where he is now has been a difficult one. Growing up in Connecticut, he endured the obvious disadvantage of not being able to play year-round and have a lot of scout's eyes on him.
"When you're younger. all the other teams are a lot more advanced," Smith said of the competition from warmer-weather states. "They're playing together a little longer, so there's a little more experience. They still get scouts up here, so you still get your looks. But it is tough with the rain and with the weather to get going, because you get outside later than everyone else. That's the toughest part."
Smith's first two seasons with Rhode Island weren't terribly successful, either. In his freshman season, Smith posted an 8.59 ERA and walked 8.2 batters per nine innings without recording a decision. As a sophomore, he went 1-5 with a 4.98 ERA and averaged 5.4 walks per nine.
He finished the 2009 regular season 5-3 with a 4.08 ERA, .238 batting average against, and 3.7 walks per nine innings. Smith credits both conditioning and improved mechanics for hissignificant step forward this season.
"There was a big mechanical adjustment as well as getting a lot stronger, which made it easier to adjust my mechanics and adjust everything I needed to," explained Smith. "I was a little too anxious. I was jumping, flying open...so I'm now able to stay back and be a lot more smooth with a little less effort. As I said, I've gotten a lot stronger, so everything's a lot easier for me to do."
As good as the results were this year, it's the pure stuff that intrigues the Diamondbacks the most. Smith wields a lively fastball that ranges between 89 and 93 miles per hour, as well as a versatile slider and a solid changeup that he uses to combat left-handed hitters.
"I throw a slider that I like to add and subtract to," described Smith. "Sometimes I like to throw it like a cutter. Usually, I just rely on my fastball because it moves and sinks a lot."
Smith won't be able to lean as heavily on the fastball as he advances through the D-backs' minor league system and faces tougher hitters, but he has the tools with which to complement that excellent primary offering. He needs to live up to the expectations brought by his school notoriety and by the simple fact that he was the first right-handed pitcher selected by the Diamondbacks in the draft. Smith's physical tools and mental makeup suggest that he is indeed ready to meet the high expectations that have been thrust upon him.
Discuss this story in the all-new FutureBacks.com Subscriber-Only Message Boards.