With the 2018 World Series now a fading memory in our minds it will soon be time to pay more attention to the upcoming June Amateur Draft. Maybe I misspoke, and the 2018 World Series is only fading in my mind.
The speculation on what the Dodgers will do with trades and/or free agent signing is running rampant. Some of those questions will perhaps be answered soon with the upcoming winter meetings scheduled for Las Vegas from December 9 through December 13.
In the meantime, we could look ahead to the June draft that is only six months away or look back a bit at the 2018 First-Year Player Draft that is only six months past. In scanning through the Dodgers selections last June, I came across a player for whom I had book marked some information expecting him to at least pitch with the AZL Dodgers in 2018. He didn’t.
Left-hander Julian Smith was selected by the Dodgers in the 15th round in 2018 out of Catawa Valley Community College (CVCC) in Hickory, North Carolina.
The native of Concord, North Carolina attended Cox Mill High School in his home town where he compiled a three-year record of 10-4 with an ERA of 1.88 along with 169 strikeouts and 50 walks in 123 innings pitched. He became the first member of the Cox Mill High School Chargers to ever be drafted by a MLB team.
The 6’4”/190-pound lefty headed off to CVCC and had a great start to his 2017 season in which he struck out 51 batters in seven starts but then adversity struck. In a game against Brunswick Community College he was forced to leave after two innings with discomfort in his elbow. Doctors told him the three words pitchers most dread to hear: Tommy John surgery.
Unfortunately, he was to miss the rest of the 2017 season but recovered quickly to resume his community college career in 2018. Although he missed being on the field he did take what he could from the time missed while recuperating from the surgery. What he gained might have been more significant that what he lost.
First the agony for a young man not able to be on the field with his teammates.
“It was a stressful process at first, because it’s a 12-month recovery,” Smith said. “It was grueling. It’s never good having to watch baseball games. That was the hardest part for me: going out there and seeing my guys compete, knowing that I should be right there next to them.
“The toughest part was the mental side, knowing that I had to wait for my time, knowing that I had to wait to get better, knowing that I had to trust the recovery process.”
Secondly, what was gained with the help of his family and his coaches. He returned to the game a more prepared pitcher and a more mature young man.
“Because of the coaches and the support that they gave me, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better,” Smith said. “I grew as a player from a physical standpoint, I got stronger. And coach Harvey and coach Rozzelle really taught me more of the mental side of the game – how to set hitters up, how to read things. They showed me how to really get guys out when I needed to.”
In 14 appearances during the 2018 college season he went 8-2 record with a 2.51 ERA in 79 innings pitched. He gave up 51 hits, 29 runs (22 earned), 32 walks and struck out a single-season program record 130. His career 81 strikeouts are a also a school record.
Continuing on with firsts, Smith became the first player ever drafted directly from Catawba Valley Community College and also became the first CVCC player to be named Region X Pitcher of the Year.
He been named a third-team All-American by the National Junior College Athletic Association becoming the first pitcher in Red Hawk baseball history to be chosen as an All-American.
“It’s a great feeling being mentioned with other good players from around the country,” Smith said. “Just like everything else, this is a reflection of all the hard work that we put in leading up to the season, and I wouldn’t be here without the help and support of my teammates.”
Smith did sign with North Carolina State University with a full scholarship and although grateful for the confidence they had placed in him, the call of pro ball proved too strong for the 21-year-old lefty.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Smith said in a CVCC athletics department press release. “This is something I’ve dreamt about since I was a little kid. All of the hard work that I’ve put into this is finally showing and the results are bearing their fruits.”
Smith grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, as we might expect, and has always had a goal of playing in front of the Braves fans, including his family, at SunTrust Field. Freddie Freeman is his favorite Brave, so he dreams of facing Freeman. He now has at least an opportunity to work his way through to MLB baseball and perhaps fulfill that dream.
The scouting reports on Smith are sparse but indicate a good and improving fastball with the need to improve on a secondary pitch and also with control.
This from 20-80 Baseball in September while Smith was playing in the fall Instructional League.
“Smith stands tall on the mound, his high three-quarters slot generating excellent plane on a 92-to-95 mph fastball. The pitch has life out of the hand, flashing effective run when he targets arm side. There’s slight cut when he drops under the pitch, though it might not be intentional. He hits spots to his arm side, as heavy tilt to clear his arm prevents the extension required to command across the plate. Both secondary pitches are inconsistent but flash upside: his 76-to-80 mph curveball is the better of the two, showing hammer action and 12-to-6 shape at best. A low-80s changeup gets quality separation and shows movement. His feel for the changeup is still raw–occasionally slowing his arm to guide the pitch–but there’s a chance it gets to average if he can sell it with more regularity.”
At this point Julian Smith looks more like a reliever perhaps with the seventh inning as a landing spot but it would not be surprising to see him begin 2019 in a limited innings/pitch count starting role. I expect he will get to pitch with the Loons at some point in 2019. He may be held back at extended spring training for a while to continue to build up his arm strength and work on his repertoire.