Dodgers dip into talent pool that nurtured Will Smith to find latest top pick

Louisville catcher Dalton Rushing (20) fires down to 2nd during an NCAA baseball game.

Louisville catcher Dalton Speeding throws throughout a sport in February. Speeding was drafted fortieth general by the Dodgers on Sunday. (Kelly Sheehan / Related Press)

It’s been six years since Dodgers catcher Will Smith final performed for the College of Louisville.

However within the Cardinals baseball program, he was a part of a lineage of catching excellence that half a decade later continues to reside on.

Smith took the teachings he realized from a few older senior backstops when he first arrived and handed it on to his successor, Zeke Pinkham.

Pinkham then turned a mentor to Henry Davis, who final 12 months was chosen first general within the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Earlier than Davis left, he saved the custom alive, offering extra veteran management to this system’s subsequent younger catcher, Dalton Rushing.

And on Sunday, on the primary evening of this 12 months’s MLB draft, all of it got here full circle — for Louisville and the Dodgers.

With their first decide of the draft, the Dodgers chosen Speeding within the second spherical at fortieth general.

The group didn’t have a first-round decide after exceeding the aggressive stability tax threshold final 12 months.

But the Dodgers added one other extremely touted catcher to an organizational expertise pool that has Smith excelling on the main league degree and top prospect Diego Cartaya dominating in excessive A of the minor leagues.

“The Los Angeles Dodgers do a fantastic job with catchers,” Speeding mentioned on a videoconference name from Louisville after the decide was made. “Will Smith has clearly proven the power he has behind the plate. I can’t clarify how excited I’m to get going.”

Speeding was ranked the Fiftieth-best prospect within the draft class by, lauded for his left-handed energy swing — he hit 23 house runs this season, tied for fourth most in Louisville historical past and Sixteenth most within the nation this 12 months — but in addition going through questions on his future behind the plate.

Throughout his first two seasons at Louisville, he served as Davis’ backup, splitting his time defensively between catcher and first base. This 12 months, he began 63 video games general however solely 36 at catcher, once more spending time at first base and designated hitter.

The Dodgers, nevertheless, are excessive on Speeding’s potential as a catcher.

“We actually consider the catching final result goes to be attainable and actually going to be a path he can do,” mentioned Billy Gasparino, the Dodgers’ vp of beginner scouting. “I believe a lot of the business had doubts … However a few of the sporadic enjoying time again there clouded what we predict is a proficient catcher.”

Louisville coach Dan McDonnell, talking by telephone Sunday evening, agreed.

“He did sufficient behind the plate to indicate his ability set,” McDonnell mentioned. “He hasn’t caught a ton at Louisville and has gotten higher, so [think about] how a lot better [he’ll get] if you stick him again there for 100-something video games.”

One other profit the varsity’s Sixteenth-year coach identified: “It’s a contemporary physique. This isn’t a child who’s been crushed the final three years.”

Fairly the opposite, McDonnell mentioned.

Louisville's Dalton Rushing sprints to third base during a game against Connecticut in February.

Louisville’s Dalton Speeding sprints to 3rd base throughout a sport in opposition to Connecticut in February. (Kelly Sheehan / Related Press)

When Speeding arrived at Louisville three years in the past, he was a extremely regarded recruit with a number of presents from Southeastern Convention powerhouses but in addition a teenage prospect who knew he wanted to bodily change.

McDonnell mentioned in his freshman 12 months, Speeding was already sturdy with a uncommon left-handed energy on the plate. However he was additionally “a thick, child fats, pudgy child.” He was nicknamed Gummy Bear and Mini Fridge. As a highschool soccer participant, he performed “someplace on the road,” McDonnell added. “It was only a thick child.”

At Louisville, nevertheless, Speeding bought right into a weight room program. He remade his food plan with assist from the group’s nutritionist. He labored on rising his flexibility and all-around athleticism.

And, after restricted enjoying time throughout his first two seasons, he blossomed as one in every of Louisville’s greatest hitters this 12 months, incomes second-team All-Atlantic Coast Convention honors in addition to All-American consideration from a number of retailers after batting .310 and driving in 62 runs on a Cardinals group reached an NCAA match tremendous regional.

“The plain stick out is it’s an influence left-handed bat,” McDonnell mentioned. “You see guys go within the first spherical who hit 10 to 12 house runs in faculty. This man hit 23. And our park shouldn’t be actually house run-friendly and he hit numerous no-doubters.”

Speeding watched Sunday’s draft from the “Omaha room” at Louisville’s facility, the identical place one other latest Louisville product, pitcher Bobby Miller, celebrated his choice by the Dodgers within the first spherical of the 2020 draft.

“I knew as quickly as I bought that decision, it’s a fantastic match,” Speeding mentioned. “Louisville gamers do nice within the Dodgers group. I’m excited to get going.”

Behind the plate, there isn’t any higher instance than Smith, who had already reached out to the membership’s latest prospect — and his alma mater’s newest catching product — inside minutes of his choice Sunday evening.

“There’s a normal there if you catch in our system,” McDonnell mentioned.

And similar to with Smith, the Dodgers are hoping it is going to translate to skilled success once more with Speeding.

This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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