Smith taking it step-by-step

CLINTON, IA - LumberKings outfielder Tim Smith was recently named MVP of the Midwest League All-Star Game after his no-doubt solo home run put the West on top in the 10th inning. Lone Star Dugout chatted with the 22-year-old, who is batting .306 this season.

Although outfielder Tim Smith has been in the Rangers organization for just one year, he has already taken home a couple of honors.

The Toronto native was drafted by the Rangers in the seventh round of the 2007 MLB Draft after he helped lead Arizona State to the College World Series by batting .345 in 177 at-bats.

Smith began his pro career with short-season Spokane in 2007, where he hit .284 with one home run in 23 games.

After his professional debut, Smith put his skills on display at fall instructional league in Arizona. It was there that Smith outshined all of the Rangers' young position prospects – including current teammate Engel Beltre – by winning the points title, which is explained in further detail in the interview below.

The 22-year-old is currently having a successful full-season debut with Single-A Clinton, batting .306 with 19 doubles, three triples and four home runs.

Smith, who was named the Midwest League All-Star Game MVP after hitting the game-winning home run, has been particularly hot since that at-bat. He has gone 23-for-64 [.354] with five doubles and two home runs since the break.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Smith for an interview before a recent Clinton Lumber Kings game.

Jason Cole: I want to start by going back to your college days. Being from Ontario, how did you end up at Arizona State?

Tim Smith: I got drafted out of high school by the Mets, but there were some visa problems going on. It was in '04. It just wasn't looking like a good time to sign. Because of the whole visa situation, I would have had to sit out a year before I could sign because I'm Canadian. I had to get a work visa to play.

I went to junior college to try and sign the year after and I ended up having a good year. I got drafted by the Brewers. I had some arm issues go on, so I figured it wouldn't be a good time to sign then – to go right into your first year of pro ball with an injury.

I went back for another year of JUCO and got a good offer from ASU. It was an experience that you can't pass up, so I decided to head down to Arizona and I guess good things happened.

Cole: You got to play in the College World Series last year. What was that experience like?

Smith: The College World Series – you watch it on TV and such and you see the atmosphere. You just get excited watching it on TV. I remember the first day there, just getting off the bus, there were like 2,000 people. There were people waiting for autographs at your hotel, you get red carpet, it was nuts. It was smiles everywhere. Regardless of how we played there – it's like a time I'll never forget. It was just like a little kid's dream in a way. Being from Canada, I've never been a big follower of college baseball, so it was all kind of new to me, especially being at a big D1. But the College World Series was definitely memories for a lifetime.

Cole: In Spokane last year, you had a little bit of an injury, didn't you?

Smith: I stole third, slid in, and got my hamate bone on my left hand banged up a bit. It was nothing too serious. Things are fine. No follow-up problems.

Cole: Did that keep you from being able to do anything with Spokane?

Smith: It took me out of the lineup for a little bit. When I came back, I kind of knew the season was ending and I just wanted to get some at-bats in. It was sore, but I mean, I think every baseball player can tell you a certain part of their body is sore. I think it is a game you've got to grind through a little bit. I guess you have got to be mentally strong sometimes with past injuries.

Cole: After your season with Spokane last year, you got to instructs and actually won the points system for hitters there. Can you describe the system a little bit?

Smith: The point system is not so much about your actual numbers. We're still young and trying to learn different aspects of the game, such as situational hitting. We did get points for hits, doubles, home runs and stuff like that. But we were also getting points for quality at-bats. I think that's one thing I've really been trying to work on. That's one thing that isn't real noticeable in the scorecard, but if there's a runner on second base and you hit a ground ball to the right side, you get a point. If there is a man on third base and one out and you hit a ground ball or a sac fly to get him in, you may not get the stats, but you get charted with a quality AB. There are a little, more deeper stats than you can see in a box score.

Smith impressed the Rangers at instructs.
Cole: Is that something you guys were following throughout instructs?

Smith: Yeah, we were really getting harped on about quality at-bats. More than the actual outcome of the at-bat, it was just like seeing pitches and learning pitch counts a lot more. Just kind of taking baseball a little more in-depth.

Cole: Tell me about your season here in Clinton so far. How do you feel about the way you've played?

Smith: This is my first full pro season, so things are still kind of new. But I feel comfortable as a hitter. I'm trying to still learn exactly what kind of player I am in a way. I feel like I'm real close – I'm starting to click. I'm trying to find a consistent approach, just working on little different parts of the swing. I go about two weeks at a time.

It's tough to think about your mechanics when you're in a game situation. I try to work little aspects I'm building up right now like hand placement, rhythm, the timing, and your step. I can't do it all at once, so I'm trying to become a complete hitter step-by-step. Being in Clinton, it has been fun. I can't see myself working behind a desk. Playing baseball every day – I feel privileged.

Cole: You mentioned trying to learn about yourself as a player. Can you give me a little bit of a scouting report of you as a hitter? What is your approach like? What are you trying to do when you're at the plate?

Smith: When I get looked at at first, a lot of people think I'm a home run type of guy, but my whole life I have never really been a home run guy. I've been able to do it in batting practice and such, but I'm trying to become a hitter with power before I'm a power hitter. I'm a guy that can use the whole field, have a scrappy at-bat, and be a situational hitter. I just try to be fundamental. I always try to have a team-first attitude when I'm at the plate. I try to work pitch counts and I'll try to fake a bunt here and there just to get another pitch in. I just kind of try to touch all parts of the game.

Cole: Let's talk about your game in the outfield. You played a lot of centerfield at Arizona State, didn't you?

Smith: I played all three. That's another thing. During batting practice, I always try to touch base on all fields. I'm not saying I could be a centerfielder, but I feel that if an injury goes on or somebody gets suspended, I feel like I would be able to step in and play center for a game or two. I want the coaches to feel that I can take care of it and not just be thrown there. Whatever gets me in the lineup I guess, too.

Cole: You haven't played any center this year, have you?

Smith: Yeah, I've played a few games this year. I think two or three games in center, three or four maybe. And a couple of late-inning switches because things went on, but more in the corners.

Cole: Is there one of those positions that you feel most comfortable at?

Smith: I'm trying to work with my arm – I had some injuries go on in college like I said. I kind of just battled through it for my sophomore and junior years. I always had a plus arm when I was younger, but now it just kind of went downhill. The coaches and coordinators have been really helping me with arm strength programs and just like mechanics again.

I kind of got stuck in left field because of the arm deal, but it is going uphill real fast right now. I don't know why, but I feel more comfortable in right field. There's not much of a difference, but I just feel like you get more spin in left field. The righties turn on them and the lefties spray them – it just feels like the ball moves a little more. In right field, it's just kind of straight up. But I feel comfortable at all three really.

Cole: You guys have been in three or four brawls this season, haven't you?

Smith: That's another thing that is kind of new to me, too. In college and in summer ball leagues, they're pretty strict with things like that. I'm not going to say it's a good thing that we get into brawls, but it shows that there is team chemistry. It shows that your teammates care. We have a pretty different group. We've got people from different backgrounds – I think we have six or seven different countries on our team. For everyone to kind of mesh – if something goes on and you see your whole team running on the field behind your back, it's a comforting feeling. It's not about the brawls, it's just more about the team bonding and just being together.

Cole: Have you set any goals for yourself for the remainder of the season?

Smith: When I was younger, I used to kind of set goals for statistics and stuff. But over the past couple of years, I've realized baseball is a crazy game. You can't really control statistics sometimes. You can to a certain aspect, but I think I have to get more into consistency and quality at-bats and the mentality of the game. Those are more of my goals. I'm trying to stay mentally and physically strong throughout the year.

Obviously everyone has goals about moving up and you want to hit .300-plus and such, but really I just want to keep my routine going. I've got a plan with my swing and I'm just going to keep chipping away at it each day. I'm just going to set the bar higher for myself as I go.

Cole: Tell me about the experience of playing, and hitting the game-winning home run, in the Midwest League All-Star Game.

Smith: It was a great experience just to be there. It was an honor to be selected to an event like that because you are representing yourself, where you come from, your organization, and the team you are with. It's always a good thing. It is a fun environment too – it's more stress-free. I was just going out there and playing a game. You don't have to worry about stats; you don't have to worry about all the little things. It was just a fun time.

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