Since being taken in the seventh round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft (along with five other Panthers selected in that year), former Pitt baseball star Kevan Smith has been steadily ascending up the Chicago White Sox' minor league farm system. Now, he'll get his chance at the big time as Smith was recently called up to the majors.
The move came to pass as backup catcher Alex Avila landed on the 15-day disabled list. That was enough to get Smith his opportunity.
You might remember that Smith was a quarterback for Pitt before giving up his football career to play baseball. He became a very good player at Pitt before being drafted relatively high. Since then, he's produced offensively everywhere he's been. He tore up Rookie ball in 2011 with nine home runs and 48 RBI in only 203 at bats while hitting .355. The move to A-A+ ball in 2012 didn't slow him down much (ten home runs batting .281) nor did AA in 2014 (ten home runs batting .290). He was capable last year in AAA hitting .260 and was off to a great start this year, batting .345 and already belting two home runs in only 29 at bats.
Offensively, there's little doubt Smith is ready to give the majors a try. Defensively may be another story. SB Nation's White Sox site calls his arm average while saying his other defensive skills are poor to mediocre, citing Baseball Prospectus. He's hovered around 33% in terms of throwing baserunners out, but this season he's nailed 45% of the 11 runners trying to steal. And with the White Sox in a bind, Smith is really the next man up. Plus, at 27, it's sort of time to figure out what he can do.
While Smith won't be the starter, manager Robin Ventura says he isn't coming to sit:
"It's just a good opportunity for him," manager Robin Ventura said. "He's been doing well down there. You kind of trust what our guys are seeing down there. It's a nice opportunity. He won't get as much playing time as Dio but he's going to be playing."
We don't know if Smith will be able to stick or not, but beating out Avila may not be easy to do. The one-time All-Star is a serviceable backup and Chicago brought him in this year on a one-year deal. But a strong stint could earn Smith more opportunities down the line.
His play is a really nice thing for the Pitt baseball program. While the Panthers have had plenty of guys drafted and playing in the minor leagues (20 since 2010), most don't make it to majors. Baseball Reference cites 20 major leaguers that attended Pitt and only two have been in the past 25 years. Local player Jason Conti was the last to reach the major leagues and he hasn't played in more than a decade.
The program already has the allure of playing in the ACC and the more guys like Smith that Pitt can have called up, the more competitive they can be in recruiting better players.