Downey High grad Blake Smith adjusts to life as a pitcher in Dodgers organization

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJuly 21, 2013 

— Blake Smith woke up Sunday morning to begin the third week of his new baseball life.

The Downey High graduate, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the University of California in the second round of the 2009 draft, has been playing baseball for almost as long as he's been walking.

But on June 28, Smith the outfield prospect became Smith the pitcher.

At both Downey and Cal, Smith was an outfielder and pitcher, in that order. And while he began his fifth professional season in Double-A Chattanooga as an outfielder, the conversion to pitcher always was an option open to both Smith and the Dodgers.

At the end of June, hitting .233 with six homers and 14 doubles in 75 games, and with this being his second year in Double-A, and with the Dodgers' organization loaded with outfielders, the switch was made.

"This is something that has been on the plate since I was drafted, so it's no surprise," said Blake, 25 "It was a mutual decision to make me a pitcher. I think the decision was made at the right time. I could have started this year pitching and ended it as an outfielder. They're pretty locked-up in the outfield and this is a better path for my career. I spent a couple years hitting, so the sooner the better if I'm going to make the switch to pitching."

He's made six appearances so far for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, who are in town through tonight to face the Modesto Nuts, and is 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in five innings of work.

"Right now for us it's a matter of managing his arm since he hasn't pitched since college," said Quakes pitching coach Matt Herges. "He throws every day now, he throws pens and we get him in the game when we can. He's farther along than I thought he'd be.

"To come from being a five-tool player, which we all thought he was, it surprised me when they converted him. But now it's a pleasant surprise because he can throw the ball with velocity and he can spin it, and he releases the ball with a natural angle. There's a lot there to work with. He could be really, really good."

But that's down the road, as both Smith and Herges readily admit. For now, the transition to coming to the ballpark every day not knowing if he's playing is a mental hurdle Smith is trying to scale.

"It's different," Smith said. "I have to get used to not playing every day and to come up with a routine, but I'm working into it pretty well. I'm enjoying it, and that's the most important part.

"I don't carry a bat. I'm done hitting. If it was something I had to do then I'd borrow a helmet and a bat, but I'm not bringing one to the park. I don't miss hitting yet."

Switching positions in midseason guarantees the rest of the season will proceed slowly for Smith. The Dodgers know he has the arm to be an effective pitcher, and they're not interested in stretching out his innings or appearances.

"I think the plan is to get him in games without hurting him and continue to develop his mindset as a pitcher," Herges said. "We want Blake to throw naturally, then tweak him from there. I'm sure they'll bring him to instructional league, and then next year — let's go."

Smith said he's two semesters removed from his degree at Cal, but for now he's concentrating entirely on baseball. Because whether an outfielder or pitcher, the goal remains the same — to reach the majors.

"That's the only goal I ever set for myself," Smith said. "I'll do whatever I have to do to get to the next level and help any team that I'm with. The mindset to reach the majors remains the same, only now I'm doing it as a pitcher."

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