Minor League Baseball’s newest crop of talent wrapped up its second week of professional baseball last week in the Arizona Rookie League. Former Augusta homeschool star Jake Smith is among the young arms getting their first taste of the pro ranks.
The 22-year-old right-hander made four relief appearances through the AZL Giants’ first 14 games with plenty of early success. Smith has yet to give up an earned run over six innings of work. He’s allowed just two hits, walked two and leads the team’s bullpen with 11 strikeouts.
“I feel pretty good about the way I’ve started,” Smith said. “But it’s a long season.”
Smith has already come a long way in his pursuit of a pro baseball career. Before he was selected in the 48th round of the 2011 draft, he worked as a volunteer groundskeeper for the Augusta GreenJackets at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
Smith didn’t get paid for his work but he did meet then-GreenJackets pitching coach Steve Kline, who was impressed enough by Smith’s arm to get him a tryout with the Giants.
Though the bags of chalk and tarp pulls are in his past, Augusta’s minor league baseball team might still be in his future. Smith is currently assigned to the Giants’ rookie ball team. Augusta is the home of the Giants’ Single-A team. He’s a promotion or two away from a grand homecoming.
“My family and my girlfriend talk about that,” he said. “I can’t help but think about it. I haven’t played in Augusta since high school, so that would be great. That’s one of my goals.”
Smith might first move up to the Giants’ short-season team in Keizer, Ore., before a potential leap to the South Atlantic League.
PACER PRIDE: Former USC Aiken pitcher Gary Lee performed well enough in the first half of the season to earn a spot at the Frontier League All-Star Game.
Lee, a starter for the independent Washington Wild Things, was originally left off the East Division’s roster when it was announced on Wednesday, but the 26-year-old right-hander was added a day later.
In his third season playing independent ball and second with the Wild Things, Lee is 3-3 with a 2.27 ERA in six starts.
BACK ON TRACK: After spending almost two months on the disabled list, former Greenbrier High School and Georgia Bulldogs star Rich Poythress returned to Double-A action last week.
The 24-year-old first baseman was back in the Jackson Generals’ starting lineup Monday and went 0 for 4 in a home game against the Montgomery Biscuits.
But Poythress recorded at least one hit in his next four games, including a 2 for 3 effort the following night.
HOT HITTER: One night after hitting three home runs in one game, Augusta Christian product Josh Whitaker went 0 for 4 with a strikeout. The Advanced-A slugger hasn’t gone hitless since.
Whitaker entered Saturday’s play with a 10-game hitting streak.
He recorded two hits in each of his past four games and elevated his batting average to .287. He’s also tallied 20 RBI over his past 12 games.