Willmar grad Smith signs with Cleveland Indians
WILLMAR -- Back in preschool little Jordan Smith's crayon drawing on brown tablet paper told what he wanted to be when he got big.
In block letters below two stick figures, he wrote -- a "policeman and a ballplayer."
Sunday, it came true, the ballplayer part.
A little over two weeks short of his 21st birthday, the 6-foot-4 third baseman/outfielder signed a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians organization.
The framed bit of child's art was on display on the kitchen counter. Two dozens relatives, former teammates and coaches and family friends gathered at the Smith home on the city's south end.
The 2009 Willmar High School graduate leaves this week for eastern Ohio where he will join the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The team, based in Niles, plays in the Class A New York-Penn League. The league began its season Friday.
Smith was drafted in the ninth round of the Major League First-Year Player Draft on June 7. He began play in the Cape Cod League for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox three days later.
He said on Sunday that he was a "little reluctant" to leave the exciting setting, widely considered the premier summer league for college-eligible players.
It was a difficult decision, but added "This is an opportunity to play professional baseball," said Smith, who turns 21 on July 5. "They have a place for me and I'm glad it's with the Indians."
Smith hesitated to reveal the size of the bonus. However, standing in the Smith kitchen, Les Pajari of Duluth, the Tribe's scout for the Upper Midwest, said amounts are not kept secret.
"Let's put it this way, the average over the last two years for a ninth-rounder is $92,000 to $93,000," he said. "Jordan will do a little better than average."
The contract also calls for the Indians to pay for the remainder of his college education.
Pajari first observed Smith last July at the Northwoods League All-Star Game in LaCrosse, Wis. The Willmar Stingers outfielder was among the North Division hitting leaders.
Pajari also noticed Smith would turn 21 within 60 days of the draft making him eligible after his sophomore year, instead of junior season. He followed him the rest of the summer, attended Fall Scout Day at St. Cloud State and saw him several times this spring playing third base for the Huskies.
"His statistics were unbelievable at St. Cloud State," said Pajari, who scouted out of Houston the previous five years. "He's got that sweet left-hander swing that just comes around once in a while. It's pure and he has size."
Something else clinched it for Pajari.
"He's on such an even keel. With all the attention he's had, he remains so grounded for a kid his age."
Smith's numbers at St. Cloud were gaudy. In just two seasons, he racked up 174 hits, 74 extra-base hits and 135 RBI. He has the school's single-season records for hits (96), homers (15) and RBI (78).
Smith talked on the phone last week with former minor-leaguer Wade Adamson, his Legion coach, on strategy for negotiating a contract. Adamson, in turn, kept Jordan's parents, Rachel and Fran, informed on the particulars.
While this was going on, Jordan was in his first full week with Red Sox in Yarmouth, where he lived near the ocean.
George Jacobson coached Smith in youth baseball and VFW, a total of eight seasons.
"Hitting came natural to him, but he always worked hard," said Jacobson. "I always tried to push him a little more (because of his potential)."
He was the only 14-year-old ever to play for Jacobson on the VFW I team. College scouts inquired about the power-hitting youth when he was just 15 years old.
Jordan is polite; his voice deep but soft. His mom, one of eight children and a three-sport athlete at Detroit Lakes as Rachel Hedstrom, points out that her son is a young man of few words.
Pipes in Sarah, his youngest sister, "We do the bragging since he's so modest."
Hannah, who like Jordan was an outstanding athlete at Willmar High School and started on Ridgewater College's national champion volleyball team last fall, said she can't believe she would ever know a pro baseball player, much less have one for brother.
Jordan stressed that he owes a lot to his college coach, Pat Dolan.
"He was the one that plugged me in to both the Northwoods and the Cape Cod."
The newest Indian will leave on Tuesday to join his new team where he's expected to be the starting third baseman and occasionally play outfield.