Showcase | Story | 6/13/2013

'A true 5-tool guy'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2013 Perfect Game National Showcase kicked off Thursday morning, and over the next five days more than 300 of the nation's top-ranked prospects from the high school class of 2014 will exhibit their wares under the roof of the downtown Metrodome while hundreds of scouts look on.

To a man (or at least to this observer), the young men attendance are as humble as they are talented. On Thursday morning -- with six of the 12 teams reporting for duty -- that combination of talent and humbleness was on full display in the embodiment of young outfielder Justin Smith from St. Johns, Fla.

Smith, who just completed his junior year at Bartram Trail High School, stands 6-feet, 2-inches tall with an athletic 205 pounds packed on that frame. He is the nation's 12th-ranked prospect in the 2014 class (No. 3 in the state of Florida) and held his own during the morning workout session with a 92 mph throw from the outfield and 6.67-second time in the 60-yard dash. (Michael Gettys from Gainesville, Ga., set an event record with a 100 mph throw from the outfield).

Those were only slight increases from what he recorded in this same building a year ago at the 2012 PG Junior National Showcase -- 91 mph from the outfield and 6.71 in the 60 in 2012 -- but they were improvements, nonetheless.

"It's always a great experience to come here," Smith said Thursday morning. "I came here last year and it was fun, and I definitely wanted to come back; it's the greatest competition out here right now. I had great exposure (at the PG Junior National) last year ... and there's great competition around here today; you can bring exposure to yourself, too, because everything's here. You just hope you can do well.

"I've been working hard, so seeing myself progress is always good; it's what I wanted and it's what I've been working for," he continued. "To come here, hopefully I can continue to show how much I've progressed and just keep getting better."

Smith's dad, Brian Smith, shared his son's sentiments.

"We're extremely excited about being here," he said Thursday. "It's a huge opportunity, and we thank Perfect Game for inviting us and allowing us to be here. We're excited and ready to compete against the best of the best."

The whole concept of "competition" and playing the "best of the best" permeates through the conversation when speaking with Justin and Brian Smith. Their mindset certainly makes it easy to understand why Justin was extended an invitation to the PG National.

"With any competition when you compete against the best, you raise your level of play," Brian Smith said. "We expect him to come out and do the very best he can and compete with these guys. All of these kids, they could be doing a bunch of other things right now, but instead they're here competing and trying to live out their dreams.

"Anytime you can be around kids that are playing at the highest level and kids with the same aspirations, it's always good to be in this environment," he said. "Especially when you're (striving) for such a huge accomplishment like trying to get to Major League Baseball."

Justin Smith has been a regular on the PG circuit and the National Showcase is the 14th event on his impressive resume. He has played with Chad Raley and Marucci Elite since last summer, competing in the 2012 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational; 2012 PG WWBA 17u and 16u National Championships; 2012 16u PG World Series; 2012 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship.

He was at the 2013 17u/18u PG-EC Invitational just last week and was named to the all-tournament team after hitting 5-for-16 (.312) with two doubles, a home run, four RBI and four runs scored. Raley, who has been here all week helping with first the PG Junior National Showcase and now the PG National Showcase, doesn't usually dip into Florida to find his prospects, but he's glad he landed this one.

"We added Justin last year and he's performed really well; he's succeeded in every event that we've gone to," he said. "They've got some really good programs in Florida so those kids usually get what they're looking for (close to home), but we were able to call him and he wanted to come play with us; I guess he's been happy because he hasn't gone anywhere."

Smith started impressing Raley from the moment he clocked-in with Marucci Elite, and he continues to impress.

"He's got that speed-power combination, and he's got a really good approach," Raley said. "For a big, strong kid that hits the ball out of the park, he doesn't strike out very often. He'll look to do damage early in the count; if he gets down in the count he'll shorten up and he'll spray base hits and doubles and stuff like that. He's a true 5-tool guy. He's got one of the best tool sets that I've probably ever had."

While Smith milled around with his PG Green teammates during the workout portion of the showcase Thursday morning, he was seeing a lot of familiar faces. At least seven members of the Green team also play for Raley and Marucci Elite during the summer and fall.

"It's definitely fun meeting new people on my team, but most of my team is my Marucci team; I'm comfortable around them and everything, so it's a lot of fun," Smith said. "It's been fun ever since the first game I've played with (Marucci Elite). We have great people on our team, great coaching, and it's just a fun place to be around -- it's just a fun environment and a great place to play. We're going to go to the top events this summer and hopefully we can come out with a trophy."

Smith has committed to veteran head coach Jim Morris and the University of Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes. He was sold on "The U" after making one visit.

"I loved it, especially being from Florida," he said. "Just going down there and seeing their campus; I liked being around it. Then when I met with the coaches, it just seemed like a family. It seemed like a great environment, and they told me the history about (the University of) Miami and it seemed like a great place to be a part of."

All eyes will be on Smith's continued development over the next year -- eyes belonging to the folks at Miami, the folks in Major League Baseball and even the folks at Marucci Elite.

"It'll be fun to watch Justin in the next year to see what he ends up doing," Raley said. "Which way he goes -- if he stays at a three-hole top guy or if he starts getting too big and too strong and really starts hitting a lot of balls out of the ballpark."

The folks at Perfect Game will also be watching. There are reasons he's climbed to No. 12 in the national rankings, although Smith himself downplays that ranking.

"It's good to know and I want to keep progressing up throughout it," he said. "It's a good marker to see where you are and it means a lot, but then again I don't really know what it means. You still have to go out and play every day."

Another guy who will be closely watching is his father, Brian Smith. He has as much as anyone invested in Justin's future, but like all fathers he only wants what's best for his boy.

"I'm probably his biggest fan but at the same time I'm still his dad also," Brian said. "As much as I want to support him (in baseball) I still want to raise him to be just a good kid, a productive kid and still respect the game, and understand that this is huge ordeal and he's already done more than what we could have thought. It's real exciting and we're real excited for him."

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