Prime Time Prospect
By Todd Lorenz, MLB.com
March 27, 2004 -- SARASOTA, Fla. -- If there is one thing Major League scouts have learned through decades of scouring the earth in search of talented ballplayers, it's that there is no such thing as a can't-miss prospect.
Cincinnati outfielder Stephen Smitherman, however, is definitely a can-hit prospect.
"He's a big, strong kid who can play the corner outfield positions," Reds director of player development Tim Naehring said. "His biggest skill is the ability to drive the ball, hit for average and power.
"He runs well once he gets going, has an average arm in left but makes it better by being athletic, getting to the ball and releasing the throw. Overall, he still has some developing to do, but he's showed at every level the rare ability to drive the ball."
Smitherman, 25, hit .310 with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs in 105 games for Double-A Chattanooga last season before making short stints at Triple-A and in the Majors. Expectedly, his numbers at the higher levels didn't stack up against his Double-A production. He hit .127 in 17 games at Triple-A and .159 in 21 games for the Reds, but bounced back with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
Against the game's top prospects, Smitherman hit .295 with three home runs, two stolen bases and a team-leading 20 RBIs in 24 games for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
This spring he entered camp rated as the organization's seventh-best prospect by Baseball America, but the Reds have him a little bit higher on their list. Smitherman was given the 2003 Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award as the Reds' Minor League Player of the Year this winter and is currently in camp vying for a roster spot.
A 23rd-round pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Smitherman knows he has come a long way in a very short time so he's remaining realistic about his chance to break camp with the Reds.
"There's four or five guys who have an opportunity to make the team as a fourth or fifth outfielder," he said. "It's just about being able to put yourself in the position to win a spot and show the coaches that you can do those little things that they weren't really sure if you could or not do."
Smitherman admits that he hasn't been doing that enough through the first few games of the Grapefruit League season, but he also has a reason.
"I might be a little bit overanxious," he said. "Maybe I'm trying to do too much too early. I can't complain, but sometimes I catch myself over-swinging the bat a little."
According to Naehring, that kind of self-realization is one of the most impressive things about Smitherman. He has the ability to work through his own flaws and avoid extended slumps.
The only question is whether Smitherman will be taking that approach to Cincinnati or Triple-A Louisville when April rolls around.
"I've only played like two weeks in Triple-A and that's about as much time as I've had there, so I don't think going there is an extremely bad thing," Smitherman explained. "But I want to make the team, just like everybody else.
"If I go (to Louisville), though, I can still learn. I can play every day and work myself into a better position to make the team in the future."