Versatile Smelter has big decision to make

All American Game : : Story
Jim Ecker        
Published: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

DeAndre Smelter is an exceptional baseball player, an exceptional football player and an exceptional basketball player. Some of the top colleges in the country want him to join their baseball team next year, while others want him to join their top-20 football program. Some schools want him for both sports, and he could probably play some Intramural basketball during the winter as well.

Smelter might not make it to college, however, because he’s viewed as one of the top high school prospects for the 2010 major league draft. He’s been selected to play in the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego on Aug. 16, one of 40 top-notch players who have been picked from around the country.

Smelter, 6-2, 205, excelled in all three sports at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon, Ga., this past year as a junior, but he’s not sure if he’ll continue to diversify as a senior. The time for a decision could be coming, although in a perfect world he’d continue to play all three.

“I just like going out and having fun with my friends,” he said.

He’d love to play football this fall, but isn’t sure if that would hinder his baseball career or not. “That’s going to be a tough decision,” he told Perfect Game.

Smelter has already set Tattnall school records for interceptions and receptions, and on the baseball field his 97 mph fastball and 83 mph splitter have the scouts drooling. He’s been all-state in all three sports and has thrown multiple no-hitters.

“There’s no doubt he’s got the arm strength to pitch in the big leagues,” said Kevin Brown, his pitching coach at Tattnall who won 211 games during his major league career. “That’s a good arm in any league, at any level.”

Brown and Tattnall Coach Joey Hiller have been very careful with Smelter’s talented right wing. They didn’t let him throw breaking balls until he was 16 years old and a sophomore, mostly to protect him and make sure he stayed healthy. “He throws 95,” said Hiller. “Why should he throw a breaking ball in high school? He can win without it.”

There’s another reason they’ve been extra-careful with Smelter. As a three-sport star, he’s always been jumping from one sport to the next, with little time to properly train for the next season.

“From a baseball standpoint, he’s never been really able to focus on pitching,” said Brown, 44. “He’s never really had enough time, going from football to basketball to baseball. To be able to do what he’s done with one pitch, it shows how good his arm is.”

Although Smelter likes all three sports, he clearly likes baseball the most.

“Yes, sir, baseball is my favorite,” he confirmed. "It’s just kind of grown on me. Ever since I was 3 years old, I’ve been playing it. I remember I hit my first home run in T-ball.”

A lot of young kids (and some parents) think it’s a home run in T-ball if you hit a ground ball to the shortstop and run all the way around the bases. Not Smelter. “No,” he said, laughing, “it went over the fence.”

Smelter can squat 375 pounds, bench-press 250, jump 32 inches in the air and run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, one of the many reasons that Georgia, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, LSU, Maryland, North Carolina State and Stanford covet his services on a football field. He intercepted 11 passes as a sophomore in 2007 and scored 19 touchdowns last year as a junior. He’ll be remembered as one of the best football players in school history, even if he never plays another down.

Baseball is calling.

“I think his best sport is baseball, even though he’s great in football,” said Hiller. “He’s just a phenomenal three-sport athlete, but I think baseball is his ticket.”

Brown played high school football until he hurt his knee, but doesn’t see anything wrong with playing a variety of sports in high school.

“I think it really depends on the individual,” he said. “What a kid enjoys comes first. What they want to do, that comes first.”

Brown has worked with Smelter for three years. He said Smelter was more of a shortstop than a pitcher as a freshman, then gained a lot of velocity between his freshman and sophomore years. “He was already ahead of the curve, but he made a big jump,” he said.

Smelter said he’s enjoyed working with Brown and has learned a lot.

“Mainly he’s taught me about mound presence,” he said. “He told me you shouldn’t ever let them know your emotions. Even if things aren’t going well, they shouldn’t be able to tell from your facial expression.”

Apparently, that hasn’t been a problem. First of all, things usually go very well when Smelter is pitching. And secondly, he’s not the type of guy who gets visibly upset.

“I’m a pretty mild-mannered guy,” he said. “It takes a lot to get me flustered.”

Brown said Smelter has been a joy to coach. Smelter is a hard worker, and lists his greatest off-the-field achievement as helping disabled children play baseball.

“If anybody wanted a role model, he’s a good guy,” said Brown. “I’ve never really seen him get upset. And he’s very competitive.”

Brown thinks Smelter can go a long way in baseball. “He definitely has the raw ability,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. He’s got the arm to play in the big leagues.”

Hiller will hate to see him go after the 2010 season.

“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kid,” said Hiller. “He’s the type of kid you dream about coaching.”
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