Buefield Blue Jays left-handed pitcher doing fielding drills at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin, Fla., Thursday

Hard work paying off for left-hander Evan Smith

Semmes, Ala., native hopes to make further progress this season.

DUNEDIN FLA. – Bluefield Blue Jays pitcher Evan Smith is using better fastball command to strengthen his game.

The 19-year-old, who started last season with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, was promoted after a solid start and played the remainder of the season in the Appalachian League.

Smith’s stats improved significantly since 2013 and the left-handed pitcher knows what the key to success has been for him.

“Just fastball command really, not walking people, not leaving the ball up, and staying low with my fastball,” Smith said after a morning practice on Thursday at the Bobby Mattick Training Center, the Toronto Blue Jays minor-league facility. “I mean, the fastball is one of the most important pitches because all the other pitches work off the fastball.”

Building off of his refined fastball, he is now focused on implementing other pitches into his game to keep hitters guessing.

The change-up, a pitch that he believes to be one of his weakest, has been developing for him over the past season.

“That’s what I worked on a lot last year and I got better towards the end of the year,” Smith said. “Just being able to show that I have a change-up, putting it on the batters’ minds, helps a lot.”

Last year, he would often turn to a two-seam sinker in order to force opposing batters to hit ground balls.

As the Blue Jays’ 2013 fourth-round pick matures, Smith is figuring out his approach on the mound.

“I kind of realized what type of pitcher I was,” the Semmes, Ala., native said. “Wasn’t really a strike-out, power pitcher; more of a ground ball, early contact pitcher.”

Smith has a strong work ethic and trained hard through the off-season with Turner Lee, a former teammate, in order to stay sharp.

He also credits the GCL Blue Jays pitching coach with a lot of his development.

“Willie (Collazo) helped me a lot,” said Smith. “He’s a great coach, he showed me my pick-off move, trying to control the running game, and my change-up too.”

While Collazo deserves his share of credit, the coach is not the main influence for the young pitcher’s progress.

Getting into pitching at nine years old after having to fill in for the regular starter who was sick, Smith’s real drive and inspiration comes from his late father.

“My father helped me a lot when I was young, he passed when I was a kid, but he’s kind of been an inspiration for me,” Smith said. “He’s been the reason, the one reason that I’ve wanted to do this.”

___

Follow @stevegordon1729 on Twitter