Smith's perseverance powering Oregon State
After double disappointments, Mariners' eighth-round pick has bright future
OMAHA, Neb. -- Tyler Smith seems like a coach's dream, the kind of player every team wants to have. There's just one matter on which he doesn't see exactly eye-to-eye with head coach Pat Casey.
A year ago, Smith was not selected in the First-Year Player Draft, despite an excellent season for a good Oregon State team. He met with twin June disappointments, going undrafted and seeing the Beavers' season end in the Super Regional round of the NCAA tournament.
On Monday afternoon, Casey referred to that Draft day frustration as "the best thing that ever happened" to the senior shortstop. Smith acknowledges that he benefited from the snub, but he can't go all the way to viewing it as quite such a good thing.
Smith wanted to be drafted. He thought there was at least a decent chance he would be selected. To his credit, when he wasn't, he poured the disappointment into his game. But he'd just as soon not have gone through the whole experience.
"I just wanted to get as good as I possibly could get," Smith said. "I worked hard in the summer, came back and knew that this could be my last year I ever could play. I just wanted to either go out with a bang or hopefully someone believed in me."
Things turned out well for Smith in more ways than one. He enjoyed a big year at the plate. He helped propel the Beavers back to the College World Series for the first time since 2007. And this time around, he was drafted, in the eighth round by the Seattle Mariners.
A year after the double disappointments, things are looking a lot brighter.
"I flushed it real quick and went out and played summer ball and worked hard," Smith said.
On Monday, Smith showed all the qualities and skills that the Mariners liked, and that his teammates and coaches love. Smith went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run. And he played smooth defense behind starter Ben Wetzler and reliever Scott Schultz, serving as a central figure on both sides of the ball in an 11-4 win against Louisville.
In a College World Series where defensive miscues have loomed large in several games, having a sure-handed shortstop is magnified. When that shortstop is a senior who regularly gets on base out of the leadoff spot, it's an absolute gift.
"'Smitty' just does a lot of things for us," Casey said. "And to see what kind of player when he came, he was unsure. ... He didn't have the same swagger and confidence that he has now. And he's going to take that with him to professional baseball. He certainly is a guy that anybody in the country would want in the middle of the diamond and hitting in the one-hole."
Wetzler values him just as much as his head coach. Long before Draft day last year, he was already preparing to lobby Smith for a fourth year in Corvallis.
"I told him last year, 'Hey, you better come back. I don't care what they're [offering] you. I'll pay you double to take us to Omaha.'"
With some help, Smith did just that. He was one of four senior starters in Oregon State's lineup on Monday, along with first baseman Danny Hayes, designated hitter Ryan Barnes and center fielder Max Gordon. That's a tremendous core to be able to lean on at this time of year.
Thanks in part to those seniors, the Beavers are back on their feet despite losing their opener to Mississippi State on Saturday. If they can beat Indiana on Wednesday, they'll get a rematch with MSU, needing two wins to advance to the College World Series championship series.
And whenever it does all come to an end, Smith has more baseball ahead of him.
"It's been a pretty cool experience," he said. "I try not to think too much about it, because we were about to start Super Regionals, but when I saw my name get called, it was a thrill. I'm excited for that, but I'm more excited to keep going here in Omaha."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.