Smith off to hot start with Blaze

Outfielder Tim Smith is enjoying his first week in the Cal League, batting .450 with two doubles and one home run in 20 at-bats. Lone Star Dugout chatted with the 22-year-old after his 5-for-5 performance in Wednesday night's game against San Jose.

Outfielder Tim Smith posted solid numbers in his first full season with Single-A Clinton last year. In 121 games, the Toronto native batted .300 with 25 doubles, 13 home runs, and 21 stolen bases.

The 22-year-old is a good pure hitter with above-average raw power and strong speed. The mixture of tools could lead to a breakout season in the California League this year, and Smith is off to an excellent start. Through six games, the Arizona State product is 9-for-20 with two doubles, one home run, and two stolen bases.

Lone Star Dugout chatted with Smith after he went 5-for-5 against the San Jose Giants on Wednesday night.

Jason Cole: You faced a former first round pick in Tim Alderson and had a solid night at the plate, going 5-for-5. Tell me about your night.

Tim Smith: Tonight was one of those nights where I felt like my timing was right on. This helped me slow the game down and see the ball long. It made it easier to stay inside it. It would have made it a little better if we put up the win, but the sun will shine tomorrow.

I think as a ballplayer, you need to take to mind how you achieved your success from the previous game, but never take it for granted or just try to cruise with it. The second you think you're bigger than the game, it will jump up and bite you in the backside. There's always room for improvement no matter how successful you were.

Cole: The California League is historically know as being hitter friendly. How are you liking it so far? Does it feel much different than the Midwest League when you're hitting or playing in the field?

Smith: Whether you're in this league or that, you are out there playing the same game with the same rules. The Cal League is known as a hitter's league, but I think this can be a bit of a distraction to young hitters trying to do more than they're capable of at the plate. I'm just going to try and stick to what works for me rather than trying to alter my swing because of how a ball flies or ballpark dimensions.

But overall I'm enjoying my time in this league. The only differences is that it's a little windier, which makes defense in the outfield a little tougher. But the elements are out of the players' control, and learning how to play with them is part of the game.

Cole: You're off to a 9-for-20 start at the plate with two doubles and a home run. How did your Spring Training go?

Smith: Spring Training went well. I think it is a good time to experiment with different aspects of the game to see what works for you. I tinkered with a few things here and there and had some positive input from the coaching staff that helped my game. They put forth a great effort to help us out.

You definitely get the feeling that they care about us because their work ethic and attitudes over Spring Training prove that they aren't just out there because they have to be. They have the will and want to work with us.

Cole: How have you improved since last season in Clinton?

Smith: Since last season in Clinton, I think I have improved on my maturity and knowledge of the game way more than anything physically. Going through my first full season, I learned how to play with some adversity involved.

The little things, like learning how to maintain yourself when things aren't going so well or knowing exactly what I did wrong on certain swings without having to ask a coach questions.

Cole: What have you been working on lately at the plate? How about in the field?

Smith: At the plate, I have been working on getting my lower half more involved. I've been loading my hands a little earlier and farther back to give me a little more time for pitch recognition. That allows me to fire through with my legs and core.

?The early loading also helps me with pitch selection so I can zone up and recognize offspeed pitches earlier. I think this will aid with my walk-to-strikeout ratio, which is something I wanted to even out a little more this year.

Defensively, I've been working on the footwork for ground balls and fly balls that lead up to throws. I've also been taking my time seriously during batting practice to get as many reps in as I can with live balls off the bat.

Cole: You've told me that a past injury has hurt your arm strength, but the Rangers put you on a program to help build it up again. How is your arm strength coming along?

Smith: The arm strength is improving every day. Sometimes I feel like a pitcher because I have made band work, cuff exercises and icing part of my daily routine. I'm completely pain-free, which is comforting. My mechanics are evening out and I feel accurate, so I'm real happy about my throwing this year.

But at the same time, I'm going to keep chipping away at it because obviously it's an advantage to your team and career to be an outfielder with a strong and accurate arm.

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