Smith is Stingers' sparkplug
It's supposed to harder than this. Like a magician waving a wand, Jordan Smith turns fastballs into hits with a flick of the bat.
"Jordan has had an unbelievable summer," said Willmar Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz about his right fielder. "We wanted to have a local kid on our team that could play at this level and Jordan was that person. He's proven he can play with some of the top Division I players in the country."
While the Stingers were signing players from across the nation to fill their inaugural roster in the Northwoods League, Smith was the local selection, having played high school baseball for Willmar. The team wanted a player that some of the fans could identify with. Sure, Smith was talented and the team's brass was certain he wouldn't fail. But no one expected him to hit like this. Not even Smith himself.
The left-handed hitting outfielder who will be a sophomore at St. Cloud State University this fall, is leading the Northwoods League in hitting with a .386 average. He's third in the league in RBI with 51.
"I didn't know what to expect going from aluminum to wood bats," said Smith, who has been firmly planted in the No. 4 spot in the lineup most of the season. "I was told that the league average was around .270 so I knew it wasn't going to be easy. It has surprised me a lot that I'm hitting as well as I am."
Smith admits he would like to finish the season hitting .400 since only one other Northwoods player has ever hit .400-or-better in the 17-year history of the league (Luis Rivera of the Waterloo Bucks batted .437 in 1995). Smith has been over .400 most of the season until a recent mini slump dropped him below the mark.
Hitting has never been a problem for the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Smith. He was a three-time All-Area pick in high school as an infielder/pitcher. He didn't start playing outfield on a regular basis until his freshman season at St. Cloud State. But he has adjusted quickly defensively, too. In a game earlier this season with the Stingers, he tracked down a ball deep in the right-field corner, fired a perfect strike to the plate and nailed the runner by 10 feet.
If players that can run well, have a strong arm, play solid defense, hit for average and hit for power are called "five-tool players", then Smith has his own workshop. He has legged out a league-leading seven triples and swiped 10 bases in 15 attempts this season. He also has hit three home runs. The only part of his game that is still under construction is his defense in the outfield, but only because he is so new to the position. But even that part of his game has steadily improved this season.
"He's the whole package," said Stingers manager Matt Hollod. "He can run, hit and throw. He's been consistent all season and has really been a clutch hitter in the cleanup spot."
While the majority of collegiate players can't be drafted by a major league baseball team until after their junior year, Smith recently found out that he will be eligible after his sophomore year because he will turn 21 on July 5, which is within the required 60 days of the draft.
"Twins scout Mark Wilson actually told me at the All-Star break that I would be eligible for the draft next year," said Smith, who was one of three stingers selected to play for the North Division in the Northwoods League Classic. "We'll see how good of a season I have at St. Cloud State and if I get drafted, well, that would be great. If not, I might try to play in the Cape Cod League next summer."
The Cape Cod League is considered by many scouts to be the top summer college baseball league in the nation. The Northwoods League is considered one of the top three in the country.
If Smith has as good of a season as he did his freshman year with the Huskies, it's highly likely major league teams will come calling. He was named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Freshman of the Year with a robust .457 batting average and a school-record 15 home runs to go along with 78 RBI, a .521 on-base percentage and an impressive .829 slugging percentage.
"My coach, Pat Dolan, is talking about moving me to third base next season," said Smith, who also was a standout football and basketball player at Willmar. "I'd like to play infield again, but I'll play wherever they need me.
Willmar has seven games remaining this season. The Stingers are currently 17-11 and one-half game behind St. Cloud for first place in the North Division in the second half of the season. Rochester won the first half of the season and will play the winner of the second half in a best-of-three series. The winner of that series would play the South half winner in the overall championship.
Winning a batting title and helping the team reach the playoffs certainly would make pro teams take notice of Smith. There have been 67 former Northwoods League players that went on to play in the major leagues. Smith appears on his way to adding to that number.
Stingers raise money for Willmar Food Shelf
The local Thrivent Financial for Lutherans chapter and the Stingers raised $3,465 for the Willmar Area Food Shelf from their Shirts Off Our Backs Night promotion on Monday.
All 34 players and coaches retro yellow jerseys could be purchased outright for $150 or fans could bid via e-mail or by live bids during the game.
Players in attendance after the game gave their jersey off their back and autographed it for the fans that purchased it.
Fans also brought non-perishable food items to be distributed to the local food shelf.