The Interview Vault: Tim Smith
Most seasons in the Midwest League, a player who hits .300, belts 25 doubles and 13 home runs and drives in 70 runs would be one of the centerpieces of a lineup. Those numbers would have led all of those offensive categories for the 2009 LumberKings. However, the year prior in which they occured, they were largely overshadowed by the seasons of Ian Gac, Mitch Moreland and Jonathan Greene.
That statline belonged to LumberKings’ outfielder Tim Smith, the biggest overlooked piece to the offensive puzzle during the ’08 season. He was tasked with moving over Engel Beltre and Renny Osuna while batting in the three spot early on in the season, setting the table for Gac. After Gac’s promotion, he was asked to protect Moreland in the five spot and handled himself there as well. Smith hit above .276 in every situational category, including .352 when leading off an inning and .311 with runners on base. He committed just two errors in 81 games in the outfield, yet also took to the DH role, hitting .335 with five homers and 30 RBI when he didn’t have to play defense. Simply put, Smith did everything manager Mike Micucci could ask for and more without much accolades.
The lack of a spotlight was probably nothing new to Smith, who after winning the High School Player of the Year award in his native Toronto in 2004 and setting numerous school records in two seasons at Midland Junior College (Midland, TX) had been just another solid player at Arizona State. His .333 average and .446 slugging percentage would be overshadowed during that 2007 season by the likes of current Houston Astro Brett Wallace (.404, 16 HR, 78 RBI, Pac 10 Player of the Year), current Oakland Athletic Eric Sogard (.400, 11 HR, 62 RBI), Colorado Rockies prospect Kiel Roling (.356, 15 HR, 63 RBI), current New York Met Ike Davis (.349, 8 HR, 61 RBI) and current LA Angel Andrew Romine (.300, 41 RBI).
While he wasn’t a first-round selection like Wallace and Davis, Smith found his way to the Texas Rangers as a seventh-round pick in the 2007 draft. He went on to Spokane that season and didn’t make a huge splash, hitting .284 with a home run and nine RBI in 23 games.
His start with Clinton was steady but unremarkable. He hit .293 with 39 RBI in the first half, yet had slugged only two home runs. Still, he was one of the franchise record nine LumberKings named to the 2008 Midwest League All-Star Game, joining Gac, Greene, Moreland, Osuna, Jose Felix, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Kennil Gomez. By the end of the two-day event, Smith would finally emerge from that group of budding stars to get his share of the attention.
The All-Star Game stood deadlocked at 4-4 from the fifth inning on and looked bound for the first tie since the North and South battled to a 6-6 draw in 1991. Smith, the only non-starter amongst six Kings’ position players on the West roster, stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the 10th against a hometown pitcher in Great Lakes’ right-hander Miguel Ramirez. Upon the 1-2 delivery, Smith lifted a towering drive down the right-field line that wrapped around the foul pole, giving the West a 5-4 advantage. That lead would stand as the West snapped a three-game All-Star losing streak. For his efforts, Smith was awarded the “Star of Stars” award for the game, becoming the first Clinton player to win it since Roger Miller in 1990.
Today’s feature interview is all about that magical June evening. Smith weighed in on the home run, the ”Star of Stars” selection and more on his All-Star experience.
So what’s happened to Smith since then? Plenty. He finished the ’08 season even better than his All-Star-worthy start, hitting .307 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in the second half. His ’09 season was split between high-A Bakersfield and double-A Frisco, and he combined to hit .320 with seven blasts and 51 RBI in those two stops.
At the end of that year, the prospect-heavy Rangers decided to move Smith to another team building through the draft and Minor League acquisition. He and catcher Manny Pina joined the Kansas City Royals in exchange for the talented yet troubled right-hander Danny Gutierrez.
Now in a Royals’ system that Baseball America considers the best in all of baseball, Smith is again putting up great numbers while standing in the shadow of bigger-name prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. In 95 games with the double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals last season, Smith hit .306 with 18 doubles, nine home runs and 50 RBI. Assuming he stays healthy and has a solid spring, 2011 should be his first shot at triple-A Omaha.
He may never be the biggest name in baseball, but Smith has shown that he has the ability to hit consistently and could soon make his mark with the rest of the young Royals crop. Until that time, he’ll continue to be remembered around here as Clinton’s last “Star of Stars.”