12/09/08 12:13 AM EST
Rockies have high hopes for Smith
Outfielder will face competition from Stewart, Gonzalez
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
And if Smith turns out as good as O'Dowd thinks he can be in left field, which could be his because of the trade of Matt Holliday to the Athletics, others will want to talk about him, too.
"He probably has the best swing mechanics of anybody on our team, O'Dowd said on the first night of the Winter Meetings. "He's got good raw power.
"He's got good hitting mechanics. Usually, at some point those two meet at an intersection. Would I be shocked if he went out and hit 20 home runs this year? Of course not. It'll be decided by the number of at-bats he gets."
That's high praise for a guy who has played in just 74 regular-season games.
He was the pinch-hit darling of the 2007 team that made it to the World Series, going 5-for-8 in the regular season and 3-for-6 in the postseason. Last year, he was called up three times and hit .259 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 67 games.
Smith's Minor League career suggests there is something to the general manager's excitement. A second-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2004, Smith hit .321 with 62 home runs and 344 RBIs in 544 Minor League games. The last three seasons have seen him go deep 42 times in the Minors. That included 10 last season in 65 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs.
At this point, however, much of the talk in Denver is about what the Rockies lost in Holliday, a three-time All-Star.
Smith, 26, hasn't generated a buzz that matches O'Dowd's high opinion of him. Going into this year, more people outside the organization focus on the power potential of former first-rounder Ian Stewart, a third baseman who may have to play other spots because Garrett Atkins is the main guy at his position, and Carlos Gonzalez, an outfielder who came from the Athletics in the Holliday trade.
"He's an under-the-radar guy," O'Dowd said. "It's amazing. I don't think people realize how good a hitter he is. They're going to find out.
"They always ask about the higher-profile guys, like Stew and Gonzalez, with big-time with their swings. But Smith by far is in front of them all with his swing, the way he can hit."
But O'Dowd said Smith will have to prove himself, as will many of the young players. Smith will have competition from Stewart, who is working on outfield play. Gonzalez is seen as a center fielder, but could see time in the corners.
Smith hopes last year's extended look prepares him to win a job and fill the high expectations the Rockies have.
"Just being here for half the season and not playing, you have a lot of time to observe how guys go about their business and watch guys prepare for the game," Smith said at the end of the regular season. "It's just a familiarity with the game and how to prepare yourself. It put me ahead of the curve going into next year."
In other developments on the first day of the Winter Meetings:
O'Dowd believes there is a market for center fielder Willy Taveras, who led the Majors with 68 steals but hit just .251 with a .308 on-base percentage. Talks should heat up as the Meetings continue. Ryan Spilborghs will get his chance to play every day in center, but O'Dowd said Taveras will be given a shot if he's still with the Rockies.
O'Dowd said the Rockies are not actively looking to deal backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who was supplanted by Chris Iannetta last season.
"We think he's a good receiver," O'Dowd said.
If the Rockies end up moving Torrealba, however, an option would be Denver high school product Josh Bard, whom the Padres cut loose in a cost-cutting move after the season.
O'Dowd said the Rockies are unlikely to move reliever Huston Street, who came from the Athletics in the Holliday deal. The Rockies considered trading Street to fill other holes, but set a high asking price and included him in their 2009 plans.
Street has experience as a closer, but most teams looking for a closer tend to go to the free-agent market so they don't lose players.
"We're not motivated to do something unless, quite honestly, it's a deal that you go, 'Wow, they really got back a lot,'" O'Dowd said.
Gonzalez, considered one of baseball's top outfield prospects for a couple of years, has missed two weeks of winter ball action in Venezuela with a viral flu. O'Dowd said other teams have tried to pursue trading for Gonzalez, so the Rockies spent 30 minutes watching video of him to be sure of what they have.
O'Dowd acknowledged that there are mechanical issues -- they showed up last year when he struck out 81 times in 302 at-bats in his first Major League tour -- but the Rockies like his tools.
"I don't see us moving him," O'Dowd said. "I see us looking at him ourselves and seeing where we're at with him."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.