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Willmar's Jordan Smith keeps an eye on the future

Willmar native and Cleveland Indians prospect Jordan Smith practices Feb. 8 at the Kennedy Elementary gym in Willmar. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton1 / 2
Smith takes some cuts in the batting cage Feb. 8 at Kennedy Elementary in Willmar. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton2 / 2

Less than a year after being drafted, Willmar native Jordan Smith has already started to make his mark in professional baseball.

Smith, a 2009 graduate of Willmar High School, made his pro debut last season with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a minor league team for the Cleveland Indians.

He made quick work of the league, being named to the All-Star Team and finishing among the league leaders in several offensive categories.

Coming up next for Smith will be his first spring training.

He reports to the Indians' spring complex in Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 28. Spring training runs until April 3, when he will find out his next minor league assignment.

Smith will likely start the 2012 season with the Carolina Mudcats, the Indians' Carolina League (high single-A) affiliate in Zebulon, N.C, about 20 minutes outside of Raleigh.

"I'm projected in high-A, but that could change," Smith said.

He's been keeping busy in Willmar during the offseason, preparing for spring training.

"I've been hitting here and there," he said. "Working out a lot, running a lot ... trying to do what I can in Minnesota."

Smith was taken in the ninth round (278th overall) of the Major League Baseball draft by the Indians out of St. Cloud State on June 7.

Though just a sophomore, Smith was eligible for the draft because he was within 30 days of turning 21, which is MLB's age cutoff for college players.

He decided to sign with the Indians rather than return for his junior year with the Huskies because of his age and wanting to get his pro career rolling.

"I would've been turning 22 right after (the 2012 draft)," Smith said. "I would've been an old draft pick. It's good to get into the system and working my way up than trying to negotiate and get more (money). I think it was the right choice."

He's the first Willmar native to play professionally since Dane Kallevig, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indians in 1989.

Smith signed his pro contract June 19.

The Indians assigned him to the Scrappers (Niles, Ohio) of the short-season New York-Penn League soon after he signed. He played his first game June 22.

He started on a high note, going 2-for-5 with two RBIs. He also drew a game-winning, bases-loaded walk to force in a run and win the game for the Scrappers in the 11th inning.

"It was a good experience to get my feet wet in the whole pro system," Smith said. "It's more of a job instead of a leisure/pastime."

He said he thought the jump from college ball to the pros was a successful one.

"It was a jump just like every step, just like high school to college," he said. "It was a good jump and I thought I adjusted pretty well to it."

Smith, who starred for Willmar High School, St. Cloud State (2010-11) and the Willmar Stingers (2010), holds a handful of offensive records for the Stingers.

In his lone year with the Stingers, he put up a .374 batting average, a .443 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage.

Stingers manager Matt Hollod said that any time you take a player from Division II, such as St. Cloud State, or Division III, it's a question mark whether they will be able to measure up to a league full of Division I players.

But with Smith, it didn't take long to see the kind of talent he possessed.

"He was really good at a lot of things," Hollod said. "What impressed me the most was the tough at bats he put together.

"If I had to compare him to a player we had last year, it would be Mitch Rowan. Those guys were just really good at putting together good at bats. They were tough outs."

That kind of discipline at the plate has translated to the pros.

Although he didn't show the kind of power that he had for the Huskies and Stingers, Smith hit .300, walked more than he struck out (35 walks, 30 strikeouts) and had a .403 on-base percentage for the Scrappers.

"I think average is more important than power," he said. "But I definitely need to add more power. That's something I'll be working on."

Smith played primarily as an outfielder for the Huskies and Stingers, but he played third base for Mahoning Valley and the Indians plan to continue using him there.

"They have been working me a lot at third and trying to move me through the system at third," he said.

Along with making the NY-Penn All-Star team, he was tied for the sixth-highest batting average in the league. He was also third in the league in on-base percentage, 10th in hits, tied for fifth in doubles and tied for second in RBIs.

Ben Brewster

Ben Brewster covers the Willmar Stingers and other area sports, as well as laying out the daily sports section cover for the West Central Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @benbrewster.

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