Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 3, 2014

Standing above

Smoral, at 6-8, among top Toronto prospects

BLUEFIELD — Matt Smoral stands above most pitching prospects in the Appalachian League.

At 6-foot-8, he stands above just about everyone on the baseball field.

“I played basketball, but I just fell in love with baseball,” said Smoral, a left-handed pitcher for the Bluefield Blue Jays. “I just ran with it.”

The Blue Jays are glad he did, making Smoral a first round supplemental selection (50th overall) in the 2012 draft.

Smoral, who had been expected to go even higher before suffering a stress fracture in his foot as a prep senior, had committed to play at North Carolina, but the Blue Jays made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“It was a tough decision, but I was excited to get started with the Blue Jays,” said the 220-pound Smoral, who received a $2 million signing bonus. “It is a great organization and I am happy to be here.”

A native of Solon, Ohio, Smoral is in his second season of professional baseball, spending last summer in the Gulf Coast League in Dunedin, Fla.

He pitched in 15 games — five in a starting role — posting an 0-2 record and a 7.01 ERA. He struck out 27 and walked 26 in 25 2/3 innings on the mound.

“It was a good learning experience to get settled in at pro ball, but I am glad to be here and to be playing in the Appy League so I am excited for the season,” Smoral said.

Smoral, who is expected to pitch today when the Blue Jays travel to Elizabethton, has worked in two games for Bluefield, posting a 6.75 ERA, striking out 13 and walking seven in 5 1/3 innings.

He started strong at Kingsport on June 23, allowing one hit, striking out eight and walking three in three innings for the Blue Jays. He struggled in his outing last Monday in Danville, surrendering four runs and six hits, striking out five and walking four in 2 1/3 innings of work.

“There were some good things from (the outings) and some things to work on, but overall I have been making progress,” Smoral said. “I just want to keep building on each outing and hopefully put together a nice season here.”

Currently the 13th rated prospect in the Toronto system, according to Baseball America, Smoral has the necessary pitches to be effective for the Blue Jays, with a fastball in the low 90s, a high-80s’ slider and a change-up in the low 80s.

I have got a good fastball. I have to keep working on commanding it better, and my slider is my go-to and put-away  pitch,” said Smoral, who was Toronto’s ninth ranked prospect in 2013. “I have a good feel for my change-up too so those are my three pitches.”

Raised near Cleveland, Smoral was a regular visit to Jacobs Field to watch the Indians, but wasn’t sold on any particular team.

Just the game itself.

“I was an Indians fan, we would go to a lot of the games, but I just loved watching baseball,” Smoral said. “I just like being around the game.”

Smoral was a highly-touted prep prospect in Ohio, who also played basketball, but was drawn to baseball. He could hit as well, but is now more interested in missing bats with his pitches.

“Probably all pitchers say they are good hitters,” he said, with a laugh. “I was all right, but pitching was definitely my strength.”

That was clear, not only to the Tar Heels, but to numerous major league teams, with the Blue Jays making the decision to select him with a supplemental selection in the opening round, and offering a higher signing bonus than normal for a 50th overall pick.

“It just so happened that the Blue Jays gave me this opportunity and I am very thankful for that,” said Smoral, who was given an extra incentive with a large signing bonus to put him in a Blue Jays uniform. “It is nice, I am thankful to the Blue Jays, but when you get out here, you are just like everybody else, you have to go out and do your job.”

Smoral spent last summer in Florida, and returned to Dunedin for extended spring training in the spring, and was fine with spending this season in Bluefield.

“I have been through West Virginia a lot, driving through 77 and seen Bluefield,” Smoral said. “It is awesome scenery here and awesome ball park and I am just happy to be here and be part of this town.”

He has been pleased so far, having quickly learned that night games and fans in the stands beats what can be a grueling existence in sunny Florida.

“Being in the Appy League up here, it is definitely a lot better than the Gulf Coast League,” Smoral said. “I have been enjoying it so far, I am trying to take in every minute of it and enjoy the ride...

“Extended is tough because you are playing in the middle of the day and no fans or anything, but it is a good opportunity to work and get better and get ready for this season.”

Smoral hopes his tall, lanky frame will pay dividends against hitters with bats who are looking at a pitcher who might seem much closer than 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I would hope so. Being able to get on them and get a little closer to the hitter with some extra length, just trying to go out there with a good attitude and attack those guys,” he said.

Smoral has arrived in Bluefield as the highly drafted player among the Blue Jays, but knows a draft position or signing bonus doesn’t matter once the uniform is worn.

“For me once you get here it is just about going out and doing your job, just like everybody else, that is what I am trying to go,” Smoral said. “It is awesome, I am so blessed to be in this position.

“I am sure a lot of other guys my age would want to be here so I just want to make the most of it.”

The 20-year-old Smoral is part of a Toronto system that is loaded with young pitching prospects. Now he has to try to stand out from the rest.

“We are a team, but it is a competition,” Smoral said. “A lot of those guys are my friends too and I want to see them do well, it is just a good organization to be a part of.”

Smoral’s expectations for this summer are simply to get better, continuing tonight with his third road appearance, this time at Appalachian League foe Elizabethton.   

“I think it is just mostly getting out there every fifth day and going out there and being aggressive and just learning myself so I can make those in-game adjustments,” Smoral said. “I would just like to continue working on my craft, command my fastball better, just taking the mound every fifth day and getting some innings, just building on it.”

Smoral has achieved his dream of playing professional baseball. Now he wants to continue to progress, with an eye toward landing one day in Toronto.

“It is pretty awesome, waking up and going out to a baseball field to work...,” he said. “Just keep on moving on, that is the goal.”

—bwoodson / Twitter @bdtwoodson

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