Failure at first, Terps' Smoot changes his big-league pitch

July 28, 1992|By Tom Worgo | Tom Worgo,Contributing Writer

When major-league scouts watched Chris Smoot play at the University of Maryland, they said his future in professional baseball was as a pitcher. But Smoot maintained he could make it as a hitter.

Smoot, 21, went undrafted after a standout career as a first baseman, where he earned first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors his senior year and averaged .326 over four years. As a pitcher at College Park he struggled, finishing 9-11 with a 5.65 ERA in four seasons.

Yet the Atlanta Braves signed him as a pitcher out of a tryout camp in Salisbury last month.

"Going into the camp, I didn't think I could get signed. I never heard of anybody ever signing from one of these camps," said Smoot, who is from Hebron, about five miles south of Salisbury. "I probably wasn't concentrating on pitching in college. I thought hitting was my avenue to pro ball. I thought I was going to be given that chance as a first baseman."

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left-hander throws about 90 mph, so the Braves took a chance.

"You don't see left-handers every day," said Rod Gilbreath, assistant director of player development for the Braves. "You kind of go by arm strength because we see right-handers every day. He's got enough velocity to make it to the big leagues."

Atlanta assigned Smoot to one of the organization's three rookie affiliates in West Palm Beach, Fla. -- the Gulf Coast Braves.

But his stint there lasted only about a month. At West Palm Beach, Smoot pitched 15 1/3 innings in six games as a middle reliever, giving up 12 hits, walking four and striking out 10. He posted a 1-0 record and 1.76 ERA. Last week, the Braves promoted him to Pulaski, Va., where he'll be used as a starter.

"It's one of our advanced rookie leagues," Gilbreath said. "He pitched well at West Palm Beach and we needed an older experienced pitcher. We wanted to see what he could do there."

Smoot pitched the same day he arrived in Pulaski. He gave up three hits, two earned runs and walked one in four innings, taking the loss.

"We were impressed with his first outing," Gilbreath said. "He hasn't started that much, so we tried to protect him by allowing him to throw only 60 pitches. He had good control and threw a good breaking pitch. It's a plus for an organization to sign a guy and have him move up right away. It gives him confidence."

Smoot is the only player Alex Smith, a regional scout of the Braves, signed from 10 camps he directed this year.

MA "Our organization is big on summer tryout camps," Smith said.

"With Atlanta having three rookie teams, the chances of getting signed out of a camp is good."

Smoot wants to play Single-A ball in Durham, N.C., or Macon, Ga., next season.

"My goal is to get to either one of those two places by next year," Smoot said. "I have to put up good numbers and stay focused. I have to pitch and not just throw."

The former J.M. Bennett High football and baseball star signed for $1,000, and earned $850 last month. He took home about $98 every two weeks after meals and lodging.

"The money and dreams are not reached until you make the big leagues," Smith said. "When you get further in the organization, you make more money."

In addition, Smoot played for the East squad during the 1988 Olympic Festival. He also performed for Johnny's, one of the area's premier amateur teams, last summer.

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