“In 7th grade, I had a teammate tell me every day to stop playing baseball,” Toronto Blue Jay prospect Kevin Smith wrote on Instagram Wednesday night. “In 8th grade, I was told I made the ‘biggest mistake’ when I went to try out for the best team in my area . . . Junior year, I was told I made a mistake committing to Maryland.”
Smith, by his own account, spent his entire amateur career being undercut by the people around him. Smith told Bluebird Banter it was a guessing game to find out what worked.
“Growing up,” said Smith, “I would spend hours in my basement working on whatever I could to become a better fielder, but I was guessing. There was nothing out there I could go to — only what I could study off of watching big leaguers.”
The guessing worked: Smith, after spending three years at the University of Maryland playing for the Maryland Terrapins, was regarded highly defensively with average offensive tools and drafted 129th overall by the Blue Jays in the 2017 amateur draft.
“I started all three years and I’m entering my first professional offseason,” Smith wrote on Instagram, leaving out important details. He didn’t simply start — he soared into the Maryland record books with 28 career home runs (including 13 in his junior season), 117 RBIs and a .267 average in 177 games.
Still, the path that Smith took to professional baseball with the Blue Jays remained the same: he was forced to guess. Smith, to aid future players in their development, is building a brand of helping others. Introducing Elevate Baseball.
“Elevate Baseball is a brand that I have created as an avenue to not only grow as an infielder, but to help others do so too,” Smith told Bluebird Banter. “Looking online, you can find a bunch of hitting content, from e-books to Twitter accounts to Instagram pages, but not so much with infield work.”
“The vision is to put out the most complete defensive information on the web,” said Smith.
It’s within this void of fielding information that Elevate plans to exist — doing camps, making apparel, creating a website — and eventually grow into a brand “that offers players at any position information to become better.”
“You could think of it as a one-stop-shop for position players who are looking for a place to improve their defensive skills,” said Smith.
As of now, the brand is simply an account on Twitter and Instagram, but in the future, Smith hopes to see it develop into something that supplies some of the best and most complete information on the internet. It will be rooted in a community built through social media, but will grow into more over time.
Smith uses the keyword brand very intentionally. He told Bluebird Banter that the word associated with Elevate was chosen as to not limit the potential reach of it.
Smith initially created the brand in high school with a friend of his, beginning as an apparel company. The original designs were worn by multiple big leaguers, Smith says, including Carlos Gonzalez. The name, which died out, is being re-purposed towards Smith’s goal of helping others.
“I’m excited to start it back up in a new direction,” said Smith.
Smith’s high school friend is no longer involved with the brand. Although Smith plans to bring other players on board in the future to provide information from varying positions — a prospect that he’s already received interest about — it’s a one-man effort as of now. Smith seems wary about producing information regarding other positions, and wants to make sure the community clearly knows the player behind the information provided.
As much as Smith praised Elevate Baseball for the information it plans to provide, he made clear the experience, not just the coaching, needed to help a player perform well. For Smith, that experience came from two places — the University of Maryland and, more importantly, the Cape Cod League, a summer league for collegiate players that’s produced more than 1100 major leaguers and alumni include Josh Donaldson, Aaron Judge, Kris Bryant and Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.
“That place is special,” said Smith. “The people you meet, the fans you play with, the off-days at the beach — it's an ideal spot for college players.”
Smith was named an All-Star with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the league, also claiming the Best Defensive Infielder Award.
“The biggest thing was learning to play everyday,” Smith continued. “It gave me an opportunity to learn what it was like while also getting reps and working on my craft for a few months . . . [I learned] how to get into a routine. It was a lot of fun learning the process with the guys.”
And while Smith is spending one portion of his offseason helping others get the information they need to play, he hasn’t stopped improving himself.
At the time of the draft, Smith was generally regarded as a defense-first shortstop with “sneaky power.” By most accounts (including his own), he’s expected to remain at shortstop, where he plays now, for the rest of his career, but his lackluster offensive skills gave reason for worry.
“I'm continuously working to be the best overall shortstop I can be,” said Smith. “I work hard to make sure I can stay at shortstop, which is where I want to play my whole career. I've always viewed myself as a premium defender who can also add some power to a line up. I worked hard in Bluefield to keep it that way, and I've already started working on things I want to be better at come spring training.”
Smith didn’t divulge what those things were — although he did mention programs designed to eliminate the weaknesses in his game — but he has only one set goal before he enters the 2018 season: to win a championship.
And with Elevate, he’s helping others do the same.
Follow Mark Colley on Twitter: @MarkColley. Quotes edited for clarity.