Hillsboro, Oregon —— There’s isn’t much that Pavin Smith hasn’t accomplished here in his first professional summer as things start to wind down for his short-season Hillsboro Hops. Well, he hasn’t hit a professional home run yet, but besides that, the first base prospect drafted seventh overall in June out of the University of Virginia has been unstoppable at the plate, slashing .331/.418/.434/.852 over his first 175 at-bats across 46 games in the Northwest League. With six regular season games to go, Smith has a narrow lead on the league’s batting title, and looks poised to lead Hillsboro into the playoffs and a shot at a championship ring.
Not a bad first summer at all.
“Really, what do you say to a guy who’s playing like he is,” Hillsboro manager Shawn Roof quipped rhetorically about Smith pacing the club wire-to-wire. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. And he’s being challenged, don’t get me wrong, the competition here is really good. He’s just rising above that competition. It’s been fun to see him play so far.”
And while Roof—who is among the most high-energy guys on the field at all times—finds it easy to get excited about Pavin Smith, the Arizona Diamondbacks prospect himself would rather opt for a more understated reaction to his stellar first summer in the minors.
“I think I’m taking to [pro ball] pretty well,” the UVA product shrugged, before breaking into a grin. “I like it a lot here, and the time commitment might actually be a little better [than college], because you have to take care of homework and stuff in college. No homework is nice. When I go home here, I can chill.”
That’s maybe the perfect insight into Pavin Smith, a straightforward, soft-spoken guy who is more comfortable hitting and fielding than receiving attention over his hitting and fielding.
“He’s pretty quiet, but he’s slowly starting to come out of his shell,” Roof said, smiling. “That has been fun. I’m a big smack talker, I like to have some fun, and he’s slowly starting to play with that. But he’s just a high-character, high-level guy.”
Smith will be forced to continue to come out of his shell, if only because that’s what happens when you’re a $5 million first round draft pick and arguably the best prospect in the system just two months into your career. The attention, the media focus, the pressure — it all only increases from here. But spending three years at a one of the best college baseball programs in the country and winning a national championship along the way tends to help in learning how to deal with pressure and push it aside, too.
“I had so much attention on me in college, and all last year leading up to the draft, everybody was wondering where I was going to go,” Smith recalled of his life before the Arizona Diamondbacks. “Now that I finally found a home here, I think it’s almost less pressure. I don’t have to worry about what the scouts are thinking or anything like that. So I actually think it’s less pressure now than my last year of college.”
“He’s really taken to it well here,” the Hops’ field general said. “It goes to show his character, the type of kid Pavin is to begin with. He went to a great university that manufactures winners. When you go through that program winning the College World Series, you know what it takes to win ballgames. That’s tough sometimes for kids to learn. You have to be taught that, you just don’t have that in you. He’s already done a great job in that regard translating it to pro ball.”
But all the media attention and finding his way and coming out of his shell aside, there’s little question Pavin Smith is already proving he’s able to do exactly what the Arizona Diamondbacks had hoped: put the barrel on the ball. His power numbers will come in time, and he should move steadily because of his high-level college experience, but for now, it’s not a bad thing to be the best hitter in a professional league. With six games to go in 2017, and Pavin Smith still in the driver’s seat by a few percentage points, the questions about how he would adjust to the first year of pro ball seem to have mostly been answered.
“The biggest thing about their first year, yes, it’s about seeing better competition, and really it’s about coming to the ballpark every day and answering a few questions,” Roof said about Smith, as well as the broader development goals for first-year professionals. “How do you prepare yourself? What is going to be your routine as a player? How do you take care of your body in the weight room, and hydrating, and eating? Things like that. The wins, the hits, the home runs, all those things will be a big deal later on. Right now it’s about really learning how to prepare yourself. I don’t care where you come from, it’s a major adjustment to get to pro ball and then realize it’s a new reality here.”
A new reality, indeed.
It’s a reality that fits Pavin Smith pretty well, in fact. He already has a distinctly pro-style outlook on hitting, and that—plus an exceptional hit tool—could land him in many more races for batting titles as his career continues.
“The everyday aspect here is the best part,” Smith said. “If you go 0-for-5 on a Sunday [in college], you have to wait a while to play again, and if you’re not careful, that can get stuck in your head. But the thing in pro ball is ‘a hit a day keeps the doctor away,’ and it works. You go 1-for-4, that’s .250, and then you mix in a few multi-hit days and you’re there. I’m just trying to get that hit a day, and hope that every once in a while, I get two or three.”
More often than not this year, Pavin Smith has been able to keep that hit doctor far, far away.