Man in Blue: Will Smith called up by Kansas City Royals

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Newnan 22-year-old pitcher Will Smith, who posted a 39-4 record at Northgate, was called up by the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday becoming the first former Viking to reach the major leagues.

By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
cgoltermann@newnan.com
Will Smith is expecting one of the biggest premieres of his life this week.
No, the other Will Smith.
While Will Smith, the actor, returns to his role among “Men in Black” on Friday, Newnan’s version — a 6-foot-5 left-hander who earned high praise during his high school years pitching for Northgate High and more recently in the minor leagues — will officially don royal blue for the immediate future.
Smith, one of the Kansas City Royals’ top pitching prospects out of Triple-A Omaha, got a call late Monday night to catch up with the big league team in New York City during their three-game series with the Yankees.
He arrived in the Bronx just in time to be penciled in as tonight’s starter for the Royals in Yankee Stadium. Game time is 7:05 p.m., tonight.
The 22-year-old, who was 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA in nine starts at Omaha, becomes the first player in the prominent history of Northgate’s baseball program to reach the major leagues. Smith, who will wear No. 53 with the Royals, was elevated to the majors after Kansas City placed second baseman Chris Getz on the 15-day disabled list and transferred right-handed pitcher Blake Wood to the 60-day DL among a rash of recent injuries with the major league club.
“I told him to enjoy every bit of it,” said Vikings head baseball coach Greg Hamilton, who spoke with Smith before he flew from Omaha, where the Triple-A Stormchasers were hosting a weekend series, to New York. “I told him; take pictures, buy a newspaper. Soak it all in. It’s all a first-time thing and you only do that once. You don’t know how long it’ll last?”
Smith contacted The Newnan Times-Herald late Monday by text message, saying “Been a super crazy past two days.”
Coverage of Wednesday’s pitching debut with the Royals will appear in Thursday’s newspaper.
“I texted him today and I usually get one right back, but I haven’t yet,” said Hamilton, who said has stayed in contact with his former ace pitcher throughout his post-varsity career. “That’s what he’s told me all along; that he wanted to play in the major leagues.”

Smith’s arrival in Kansas City comes nearly two years after being traded to the Royals from the Los Angeles Angels, who originally drafted him out of Gulf Coast Community College in the seventh-round of the 2007 MLB Draft. Last year he went 13-9 with a 3.85 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A Northwest Arkansas and was named the team’s Pitcher of the Year. The season included combining on the first no-hitter in the history of the Double-A franchise.

After being drafted by the Angels in 2007, Smith told the Times-Herald “since I was four years old, all I’ve ever wanted to do is play in the major leagues.”

He spent the start of spring training with the Royals in March before being assigned to Omaha and was the Stormchasers’ Opening Day starter.

“He threw the best of anyone in spring training, so if you had to pick a No. 1, he’s the guy who earned the spot,” Omaha pitching coach Doug Henry told sports writer Rob White of the Omaha World Herald before the start of the season.

Smith has been a tough-luck loser since picking up his first win on May 11 in a 7-1 victory over Sacramento where he struck out six batters.

“He probably hasn’t pitched as well as he’d like to have,” said Hamilton. “But he’s also pitched some games where they haven’t scored runs.”

Royals management has been high on the 6-5, 245-pounder, who compiled an impressive 39-4 record at Northgate and struck out 108 batters in 87 2/3 innings during his first year of junior college.

Reports close to the Royals on Tuesday estimated that Smith will be used in long-distance relief for now. He’s been praised for his consistency as well as his quick delivery to the plate.

“Will is a great competitor who pounds the strike zone with four quality pitches,” Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore told the Omaha World Herald of Smith in March. “He stays on the attack, and he should provide a lot of innings. He’s someone we feel good about as being part of our future.”

Smith, who consistently rotates four pitches — both two and four-seam fastballs as well as a curve, slider and change-up — hopes to benefit from the Royals’ injury problems at the position. Among them have been a season-ending elbow injury to former Chasers teammate Danny Duffy, who was Kansas City’s top starting pitcher during the first six weeks of the year.

“He’s excited. One of the reasons they called him up is because they’ve had so many injuries,” Hamilton said. “But that’s baseball. He’s worked hard for this and he deserves a chance. Hopefully he’ll be there a while.”



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