By Cameron Black-Araujo
Canadian Baseball Network
Sign a pro contract with the Minnesota Twins or play at the University of Alabama in the SEC, the NCAA’s elite conference? It’s a tough decision and especially tougher when you’re 17 years old.
When LaRon Smith’s (Spruce Grove, Alta.) brother, Kobe Hyland, had the chance to be drafted two years ago and was passed up, it made the decision somewhat easier on Smith this year to sign with the Twins and live out his dream after they drafted him in the 25th round (754th overall).
Smith is currently playing a long ways from his home province of Alberta as his talents have taken him all the way to Florida, playing for the Twins' rookie-class Gulf Coast League team. This is a tough transition for any teenager but Smith says playing away from home in the years leading up to the draft are paying off.
“I moved out at a young age, at 15 to play at the Okotoks Academy and that really helped me prepare for living away from home and having a similar schedule as we do now,” Smith said.
Not only does Smith have to get used to the transition of living on his own, much further away from home this time, but he is also making the move from third base to behind the plate. Walt Burrows (Brentwood Bay, BC), a Canadian scout for the Twins, approached the 6’1, 200-pounder to let him know some MLB clubs may be interested in him catching as opposed to playing the infield. In June, it was made official that Burrows team would be drafting Smith, as a catcher of course.
Smith is hitting .233 with a double, an RBI and a stolen base in his first 10 games with a .645 OPS.
Smith had no previous experience as a catcher, making his work on defence a priority. According to Smith, they aren’t rushing him into anything as he’s yet to play the position through his first 10 games.
“Right now we’re focusing a lot on receiving, but we haven’t been really hammering out everything,” said Smith. “They really want me receiving first and then they’ll probably transition me more into throwing and calling games.”
Being two years younger than his brother, Smith has followed in Kobe’s footsteps over the years as they both played for the Canadian Junior National Team. That is where their similar paths go out the window, with LaRon now playing pro and Kobe transferring from Iowa Western to the University of Houston for his final two years of college ball.
Two brothers so talented, playing at such a high level, it’s no secret that their companionship aided in getting each other to this point in their careers.
“(Kobe) was always one of my biggest inspirations in how he went about everything in baseball and about everything he did pretty much. So I always wanted to beat him and be better than him, it was always a competition,” Smith said.
New team, new country and new position. Smith knows the route to the majors is a long one and will take all sorts of adjustments like the ones he’s making now. Setting goals and reaching them along the way to the bright lights of stadium’s packed with over 40,000 fans makes the road feel that much shorter.
What goals are keeping Smith motivated right now to continue molding himself into the player that Burrows and the Twins envision him to be?
“I want to try and at least be in double-A or higher in three years,” he said.