Pro Baseball: Catawba’s Smith going to Mets
By Mike London
Timmy Smith was a Dean’s List student at Catawba, but he’s also a good enough pitcher that his enrollment in grad school has been postponed indefinitely.
Smith was set to enter UNC Charlotte’s Graduate School of Engineering, but the right-hander has a much better two-seam fastball and curveball than the average civil engineer, and the New York Mets made him their 42nd round pick last week.
“Being drafted is a dream come true, an indescribable feeling, really,” Smith said. “I was almost at that point where I was going to grad school and was going to have to let baseball go. But I’ve invested so much time in the game, and I love the game so much, it would’ve been very hard.”
Smith, who turns 22 in two weeks, is flying to Tampa, Fla., today to sign a contract. After evaluations, physicals and paperwork, he’ll likely be assigned to the Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League.
The Mets also have a Gulf Coast League rookie team based in Port St. Lucie, Fla. That’s a possibility.
Smith had worked out for the St. Louis Cardinals and made a favorable impression. Even after the Mets drafted Smith, the Cardinals took the time to send him a text message that wished him well.
Smith makes a lot of favorable impressions. His friends back in his hometown of Walnut Cove put together a Sunday-night card-playing session just to say goodbye and Catawba coach Jim Gantt says “Timmy Smith is the kind of guy everyone can pull for.”
SAC hitters won’t miss Smith and won’t throw any parties for him. He was outstanding at Catawba, breaking the school record for wins and posting a 31-13 record in four years.
He was SAC Pitcher of the Year in 2006 when he went 13-1, shut down No. 1-ranked Florida Southern and set a school single-season record for victories.
Smith didn’t pitch as well as he wanted to his junior year (7-6, 4.90 ERA), but he came back strong as a senior, posting a 6-3 record with a 3.55 ERA, despite an arm injury that limited him for about a month.
“I feel like I’m 100 percent now,” Smith said. “My arm has benefitted from the break I’ve had since the end of the season, and I feel like I can go down to Florida and be at my best.”
His best is very good. He struck out 239 batters, the sixth-best total in Catawba history.
Smith was the only SAC pitcher to be drafted this year. Only five SAC players were picked, including Smith’s slugging teammates David Thomas, who is signing with the Oakland A’s, and Jerry Sands, a junior who is negotiating with the Los Angeles Dodgers but has the option of returning to school.
Smith was a dominant pitcher at South Stokes High and helped his school win back-to-back 1A state championships.
He was All-State but ignored by colleges until Catawba scout Pete Needham saw him. Smith’s long winning streak ended the same night Needham traveled to see him pitch for the first time, but Needham saw the things he wanted to see.
“People asked me, ‘Why would you even recruit a kid from a 1A school?’ ” Needham remembers. “I told them, ‘Because he can pitch.’ “Smith’s proved him right.
He’s not quite 6 feet tall, not quite 200 pounds, and he probably won’t hit 90 mph on anyone’s radar gun, but he gets people out.
“There are lots of guys that throw high 80s like Timmy does, but he can pitch,” Gantt said. “He can sink his fastball, he’s got a good changeup, and if he gets ahead of hitters with his fastball and changeup, his curveball is good enough to just bury them.”
Smart, competitive and savvy are adjectives everyone uses to describe Smith.
The hitters he’ll be facing now will all be all-stars ó the cream of the crop from Division I schools, junior colleges and Latin America ó but they’ll also be swinging wood instead of metal.
Any pitcher prefers facing a No. 3 hitter holding wood to a No. 8 hitter wielding metal, and Smith has already pitched exceptionally in summer wood bat leagues, starring for the Outer Banks Daredevils in the Coastal Plain League and for the Mat-Su Miners in the Alaska Baseball League.
“For a 1A guy to be drafted, he’s already beaten some very long odds, and I think he can be a darn good setup man for anybody,” Gantt said. “The Mets didn’t draft anyone that is any more coachable or more competitive, and Timmy Smith knows how to pitch.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.