Kevin Smith has learned during his time in the Toronto Blue Jays system that sometimes looking for a solution can become a part of the problem.
It was in the winter of 2018-2019 that the East Greenbush, N.Y. native set out on his own to make a change in his already strong swing that would improve his ability on high fastballs.
That pushed everything out of synch, says the club’s minor league hitting co-ordinator.
“[Kevin] had a very technically sound swing in 2018 but there was one small hole that he had, and it was kind of a fastball up.” said Hunter Mense, from the Jays’ facility in Dunedin, Fla. “I think he looked at it as a weakness and something that he needed to improve upon.”
Despite this fault, the infielder had put in the best season of his career so far in 2018.
Smith split his time between the advanced A Dunedin Blue Jays, and the single A Lansing Lugnuts. In the 129 games he played, the infielder had a batting average of .302, an on base percentage of .358, with 25 home runs and 93 runs batted in.
This is in stark contrast to the following year.
The 2019 season saw him with the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats, and then the Scottsdale Scorpions, of the Arizona Fall League. The prospect played 134 games, had a batting average of .194, and an on base percentage of .248 with 19 home runs and 61 runs batted in.
Mense has a theory about why this may have occurred.
“I think that offseason, he went to the extreme a little bit with wanting to cover that hole and being able to get to fast balls at the top.” said the hitting coach. “I think in doing so it took his swing away from what it was in 2018 and created a swing that wasn’t as successful with as many spots in the in the strike zone.”
Now Smith is making strides towards bringing his game back towards where it needs to be to play in the majors.
“What I’ve seen from him this year when feeding the machine and being back there is he’s starting his swing a little bit later.” said Mense. “Being able to start the swing later and being quick enough, you get a really good sense of being able to make better decisions.
“If you make better decisions, you’re going to swing at better pitches, you swing at better pitches, you’re probably going to make more contact, and you’ll hit balls harder.”
The minor league hitting co-ordinator firmly believes the 2018 season will be seen again.
“I think seeing the kind of the changes that he’s made with his swing and allowing it to be a little bit quicker, we’ll see some really good stuff from him.”