Name: Tim Smith
DOB: June 14, 1986
"I felt as if I had a successful season in 2008," said Tim Smith, the Rangers' seventh round pick in the 2007 MLB Draft. "I really got to experience the pro season in comparison to the college season. It was a fun time – I learned a ton about the game and about myself."
After glancing at Smith's 2008 statistics, it's easy to see why the outfielder came away so optimistic about his first full season. In 121 games with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings, Smith batted .300 with 13 home runs and 70 RBIs. Smith was one of just four players to reach the .300 mark in the 14-team Midwest League.
Although Clinton's Alliant Energy Field is generally known as a pitcher-friendly environment, Smith batted .350 there [versus .248 on the road] with an impressive .541 slugging percentage. The outstanding numbers actually surprised the Arizona State product, who didn't particularly enjoy hitting at home.
"Looking back at the stats at the end of the year," he said, "it came as a surprise to me. In all honesty, I felt like I could see the ball better on the road. There was a white boat behind center in Clinton that peeked over the batter's eye. If the pitcher was fairly tall, he could use it to his advantage."
Smith had a strong first half, batting .293 with 21 walks. The performance was good enough for him to earn a spot in the Midwest League All-Star Game, an event in which he was named MVP after he belted the game-winning home run. However, the outfielder didn't show much pop, as he hit just two home runs in 239 at-bats.
That changed after the All-Star break, as the 22-year-old busted out for 11 round-trippers in the second half, including seven in 27 August games. Smith maintained the strong batting average – at .307 – but his walks decreased and his strikeouts increased.
"The first half, I was really in attack mode with fastballs," Smith explained. "I would spit on the majority of off-speed pitches, which got me into deeper into counts, therefore causing more walks.
"But after opposing teams catch on, it gets you into trouble. I started seeing more ‘get me over' off-speed in the second half and I started getting into more early holes. This caused me to swing early in the count and it reduced my walks.
"I think I need to find a little bit of both approaches in 2009 because plate discipline is the first thing I'm going to be working on come spring training."
The native of Canada also believes his adjusting to the professional game contributed to his in-season progress in 2008.
"Something that is so small, but makes such a big difference if you don't master it, is rhythm and timing," he said. "I finally started clicking with it and it helped me slow the game down. Not only at the plate, but I also started becoming more confident with stealing bases with my rhythm and timing throughout the second half."
Smith's increased comfort on the basepaths is evident through a simple glance at the statistics. After stealing just eight bases in 13 attempts during the first half, Smith swiped 13 bags in 17 tries [including eight-of-nine in August] after the All-Star break.
"I've had a few 20-plus [steal] seasons throughout college ball and summer leagues," said Smith, "but I've never been overly confident or knowledgeable in that area. It's always been just take off and run as fast as you can. I learned quite a few things this summer and I want to start running more in the future."
The Rangers took advantage of Smith's versatility in 2008, as he spent time at all three outfield positions. But because his arm strength hadn't fully returned from a previous injury, he was largely relegated to left field for most of the year.
"I had an injury in college and had minor surgery on my forearm," he said. "I never really did much rehab – I wanted to get back on the field as fast as possible and it cost me a little bit. I came back throwing with terrible mechanics and I couldn't get any carry on the ball to save my life. The bad mechanics caused pain, which made matters worse."
But Smith credits the Rangers' developmental staff for helping him right the ship, allowing him to finish the season as a right fielder.
"The staff in Clinton helped me correct it over the season," Smith said. "I was put on a strength program and it was amazing, the difference from the beginning of the year to the end."
As he looks forward to his second full season, Smith intends to build on this past season's excellent finish.
"In 2009 I'm simply looking to push my game to the limits," he replied. "I'm always eager to get more and more out of this experience. I love this game too much to look back in a few years, feeling like I took it all for granted."
Also See: Smith taking it step-by-step (July 10, 2008)
Batting and Power: Smith earned his reputation as an excellent pure hitter when he batted .459 during his two-year career at Midland College before hitting .333 in his one season with Arizona State. The lefty, who is also a strong situational hitter, won the points system as the top hitter at the Rangers' 2007 Fall Instructional League. Although he had never shown much home run power in game situations until last August [when he belted seven round-trippers], Smith has always possessed slightly above-average raw power. After showing signs of busting out last season, Smith is a legitimate candidate to have a big season in the hitter-friendly Cal League in 2009.
Base Running and Speed: The 22-year-old's speed rates as solid-average, but it's especially impressive considering his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame. Smith does a good job of putting his speed to use, as evidenced by his 21 stolen bases in 30 attempts in 2008. The outfielder has run quite a bit ever since his JUCO days – he stole 49 bases in three collegiate seasons. As mentioned in the above interview, Smith ran more often – and with more success – as last season progressed and he adjusted to the professional game. He could be a 20-20 player next year. Though Smith doesn't project to rack up steals at the higher levels, his decent speed and baserunning skills could get him 10-15 per season should he reach the Majors.
Defense: Smith's decent speed allows him to be versatile in the outfield, giving him the ability to play all three positions. Despite playing a great deal of centerfield during his collegiate days [and in 2008 spring training], Smith played just a handful of games there with Clinton in 2008. The native of Canada figures to be more of a corner outfielder as he progresses through the Rangers' system. Smith's arm strength fell to below-average due to an injury, relegating him to left field for the entire first half of last season. But his arm strength began to return and, by season's end, Smith was seeing most of his action in right field. When all is said and done, Smith's arm strength should be at least average, if not slightly above.
Projection: Smith possesses all of the necessary tools to become a reliable Major Leaguer. Though Smith doesn't have any exceptional tools, he also doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. The former seventh round pick could be a steady, versatile fourth outfielder, but he has the ability to play everyday – especially if his power kicks up a notch, which is a definite possibility. Overall, Smith has a good baseball IQ to go with tools that are all at least average across the board.
2008 Outlook: The Rangers generally don't keep their major Division I collegiate products in low Single-A ball for an entire season. But the club chose to do so with Smith [and teammate Mitch Moreland] in hopes that they would help bring the L-Kings a Midwest League championship. After having success in the pitcher-friendly MWL, Smith is a lock to break spring training with High-A Bakersfield of the California League in 2009. But Smith may not finish there. A strong first half could land the outfielder in the Double-A Texas League before the season ends – especially because Frisco's outfield may not be the most prospect-laden group next summer.