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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pre-Draft suits S. African Smith

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Tyler Smith (Perfect Game)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – They came to Eastern Iowa from points near and far on Sunday, prospects of varying ages that were all brought together at the Mount Mercy University baseball field for the 23rd annual Perfect Game National Pre-Draft Showcase.

The National Pre-Draft, one of PG’s longest running showcase events, was designed to give aspiring prospects – even those not immediately draft eligible – an opportunity to get out in front of members of the MLB scouting community for what might be one last time before the upcoming MLB June Amateur Draft.

And the way most of these guys view it, a little bit of a road trip is worth the looks they’ll receive, and at least a couple of dozen scouts were at the MMU field on this Mother’s Day.

The official program listed the names of the 40 or so players in attendance, complete with all the pertinent data including hometowns and college commitments. Among the names on the PG Red team roster was that of Tyler Smith, a 2016 middle-infielder from Des Moines who attends Grand View College in Iowa’s capitol city.

That’s technically true. The 21-year-old Smith does currently live in Des Moines and he did just complete his junior year at Grand View, which sanctions its athletic teams with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) instead of the NCAA.

But Smith’s hometown is not Des Moines, a fact that his accent immediately lays bare. He calls Durbanville, South Africa – part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan area – home, and it is believed that he is the first prospect native to that country to attend a Perfect Game event.

“The draft is 100 percent on my mind,” Smith told PG Sunday afternoon when asked his reason for being in attendance. “I thought it was important for me to be here today. This is definitely a step in helping me get to the next level and achieve my dream of one day playing professional baseball.

“I’ve received some feedback from some different people and hopefully it goes like I expect it to and hopefully get to hear my name called,” he added. “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

After receiving his invitation to the National Pre-Draft, Smith couldn’t wait to get here. He dove right into his first showcase experience, throwing 91 mph across the infield, an event best, during the morning workouts.

“There were people who have been kind enough to get us here to Perfect Game, and it’s been awesome,” he said, speaking from one of the dugouts while the showcase’s lone game was being played. “It’s been a great day of baseball, but there’s never a bad day out on the field.”

Smith was named to the Pre-Draft’s Top Prospect List at the event’s conclusion, one of three players from the prep class of 2016 so honored. One of the others was right-hander Parker Thode from Ottumwa, Iowa, who happens to be a teammate of Smith’s at Grand View.

A PG scout posted had this to say about Smith’s performance at the Pre-Draft:

 

“The smooth fielding (Smith) was impressive throughout the day, making multiple impressive plays in the field. Smith features smooth, quick hands complemented by athletic actions while working to and through the ball and a strong arm topping out at 91 mph … The South Africa native utilizes a gap-to-gap approach with legitimate power to both gaps to go along with good bat and barrel control, creating consistent loud contact.”

Smith’s journey from Durbanville to Des Moines was an interesting one, to say the least. Before graduating from high school in 2016, he sat down with  a college recruiter back home in South Africa who identified six or seven schools in the Midwest that he thought would be a good fit for Smith.

Traveling on a Greyhound bus and making stops all along the way, Smith finally arrived in Des Moines and was introduced to the Grand View College academic and athletic communities. Smith’s coach South Africa is in Iowa as well: Jeff Marret works for Musco Lighting in Oskaloosa.

“Grand View was the school I liked the most and I thought it would fit me the best,” Smith said. “I decided to (enroll) there and that’s where I’ve been the last three years. When I first got there, I had one suitcase and a backpack and that was it.”

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Smith has played for the Grand View Vikings the last three seasons now and has become a big part of the program. His bio in the 2019 Grand View baseball media guide reads, in part:

“(Smith) has started every game since his freshman year and is one of the most talented shortstops in Viking history. … He is a complete player with outstanding defensive skills and a left-handed bat. One of the finest to wear a Grand View uniform.”

“I love it; it’s been awesome,” Smith said. “The people in Des Moines and at Grand View are awesome.”

There is a lot of baseball in Smith’s background and his dad, Darryn Smith, played baseball internationally on some of the world’s biggest stages. A pitcher, Darryn appeared in one game for the South African National Team at the 2000 Summer Olympics and also pitched for South Africa at both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 4 years old,” Tyler Smith said. “Baseball is definitely in the blood.”

He also played cricket, fastpitch softball, hockey and soccer while in high school. When asked if there was any skillset that was easily transferable from cricket to baseball, he smiled widely before saying, “I would say cricket destroys your swing; I would not recommend it.”

Coming to the States and escaping the cricket culture has been hugely beneficial to the development of his game, Smith believes. He told PG that “back home” he would typically play only one game a week on Sunday and then practice twice a week when a player’s schedule allows it. Just getting out there and playing the game on a regular basis during the warm weather months can certainly work wonders.

And now that he has the PG showcase experience on his resume, he’s got a new appreciation for the talent that abounds in the area, even if the National Pre-Draft offered only a small sample size.

“The level of competition here is pretty good,” Smith said. “The players are pretty good – there’s a lot of talent here – and it always helps to see where you’re at with players like this just to see how you can improve. … I’ve already made a few new friends here, it’s always good meeting other people and interacting with other people from different states. It’s awesome; it’s a great experience.”

Smith has another year of eligibility remaining at Grand View, so if nothing happens with the draft he can always continue his education and his baseball career back in Des Moines. You won’t find his name on many draft boards – at least not for the early rounds – but he’s not losing faith.

“I’m just going to let it play out; I can’t really control that,” Smith said. “My dad always said you can only control the control-ables, and I can’t really control what everyone else does and what everyone else thinks. Hopefully somebody sees me and if not, I’m better just by being here. If someone sees me, great, and if not I’ll just keep going about my business.

“I’m living the American dream,” he concluded, the smile never leaving his face. “Ever since I was little I’ve dreamed of coming to play baseball in the U.S.; it’s a life goal I’ve checked off.”



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