By Jason Wyrick
Photo by Wade Morgen
I will never forget one moment I shared with a scout during the spring of 2016. I have wanted to become a Major League amateur scout for a long time and during my time at Louisville, I had plenty of opportunities to mingle with some and make connections. I had many encounters and side conversations with these scouts, but one in particular sticks out with me on this Wednesday. So, today, I would like to take you through a pair of sentences one scout shared with me a mere three years ago.
The conversations all start the same way. “Are you here to see [insert obvious scouting candidate here]?” Normally, the response is vague and just throws up a smoke screen.
“I am here to see everyone.”
At the time, I thought that was a cop out response or maybe just a way to get me to stop talking and let them do their job. That’s fine, not everyone is terribly friendly to someone who is a prospective candidate to eventually take their job. I understood that, but most of them were good to me anyway.
Now, however, I am more wise and I understand that “cop out” isn’t really one at all. It’s a scout doing his job well by being thorough. That is how we have arrived at the aforementioned moment between myself and a scout.
The names in question were Corey Ray and Zack Burdi. Everyone knew that Ray had true five tool potential and the younger of the Burdi brothers had electric, lights-out stuff as a closer when lighting up the radar gun with triple digits. On this day, I spoke with a gentleman with a polo shirt on and a small combover to mask his thinning hair. He looked the part of someone who had been there before, someone who was shrewd with his notes and decisive in his reports.
“I was here to see Burdi, but I actually really like your catcher. I think he is the best player you guys have in the draft this year.”
I won’t lie, I was a little surprised. Check that. Very surprised. I knew Will Smith was pretty good and flashed some plus tools, but better than Corey Ray? The same Corey Ray that was discussed in conversations to go first overall in the whole draft?
“Really?” I responded, incredulous. I thought there was no way the kid from East Louisville’s Kentucky Country Day School who never caught before being converted into one at Louisville would be the best draft prospect on that team. He was the 4th ranked righty pitcher in Kentucky in his class, but the Louisville staff wanted him to catch instead. Three years later, a scout was drooling over him in that role.
“I will be over the moon if he falls to us. I’m pushing hard for him.”
That scout belonged to the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and Will Smith did indeed fall to their selection at 32nd overall, part of the compensatory first round. The third catcher off the board that day (Zack Collins out of Miami and Matt Thaiss from Virginia who isn’t even a catcher anymore), Smith became the first of the trio drafted in the first round to reach the Major Leagues, doing so last night. Turns out Louisville coach Dan McDonnell has an eye for talent himself. As if we didn’t already know.
Dodgers starting catcher Austin Barnes exited Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates with an injury, a groin strain that landed him on the 10-day injured list. 48 hours, a rushed flight out west and a lot of nerves later, Louisville’s “Fresh Prince” made his big league debut.
He walked out to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. When your name is Will Smith and you’re playing in Los Angeles, do you really have a choice? As it turns out, no. Teammates reportedly chose the song for him because he didn’t have time to get back with the stadium disc jockey amidst the whirlwind of getting the call.
Facing New York Mets veteran southpaw Steven Matz, Smith stepped into the box looking poised and collected. Down in the count, he roped a line drive just out of reach of the shortstop for a single, his first hit in the bigs. He went on to also collect a double en route to a 2-4 performance, also throwing out a baserunner stealing on the night.
One game into his Major League career, Will Smith has just continued to show why he was one of the organization’s top prospects. It’s a small sample size, sure, but he has continually proven at every level of the minors why that scout was so confident in him.
Smith is essentially on a 10-day trial run with the big league club and, in nine days, will probably find his way back on a flight to Oklahoma City. He was brought up after all because Austin Barnes went on the injured list. However, with the struggles Dodgers catchers have had at the plate recently and how hot Smith was in AAA, he is doing the best he can to seize this opportunity and force his way into the current plans at the Major League level.