116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – He’s one of the last of his kind. Perhaps the last of his kind in the Minnesota Twins organization.
That isn’t lost on Max Smith.
“I’m very lucky,” the Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder said, after his team lost to South Bend, 9-4, at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “The Twins have been great to me. I’m just happy they gave me an opportunity.”
The 24-year-old Arizona native was taken by Minnesota in the 31st round of the 2019 MLB draft. He was a senior signee out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
There haven’t been any 31st-rounders since ‘19. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB shortened its draft last year to just five rounds, and it’s a 20-round affair later this month.
The educated guess is the days of the normal 40 rounds are long, long gone. You’d have to think 30 rounds are out of the question, too.
So Smith is a relic in a sense: a guy trying to make his way in professional baseball who in this day and age wouldn’t have been drafted at all. At least he’s getting a chance.
“He’s getting some at-bats for us now and done a good job hitting the fastball,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “He has put together some good at-bats. When he gets a ball in the zone to swing at, he has been doing a good job of putting some damage on it.”
Smith had two hits, including his first Kernels home run Tuesday. The lefty swinger hit seven homers in 55 Rookie ball games in 2019 and began this season at low-A Fort Myers, though he did not hit, going 3-for-28.
The Kernels needed outfielders, so he was promoted to the High-Class A Central League in late May. He went 0-for-9 in his first three games with Cedar Rapids but has steadily picked up the pace.
He is 12-for-31 this month, a .387 average.
“I’ve been working a lot on my timing and getting my vertical bat path better,” Smith said. “It’s still a work in progress. But I’m seeing the ball well, feeling good at the plate, feeling comfortable. So I think that has been the biggest difference, for sure. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable here. The guys here have been great. They’ve been helping me out, helping me through some stuff. It’s been good so far.”
Smith pitched just a smidge at UNLV, where one of his coaches was Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. He said Maddux not only helped him with his pitching but also as a hitter, letting him know what pitchers generally think.
So it sounds as if he’d be comfortable pitching in an emergency situation, as infielder Daniel Ozoria did in the ninth inning here. Starter Kody Funderburk gave up eight runs in the third inning and was removed, which put the bullpen in action well earlier than anticipated.
By the way, Ozoria retired all three South Bend hitters he faced, on a routine grounder, a foul popout and a strikeout, throwing seven pitches, all strikes.
“I don’t want to because I don’t want to be in that situation with the team,” Smith said with a smile. “Ozo’s been great at that, so keep letting him do it, and I’ll just play the field. I’m OK with that.”
The Kernels are 17-20, going 7-5 on a two-week road trip to Fort Wayne and Beloit. Seth Gray had a pair of RBI singles in this game for Cedar Rapids.
The teams play again Wednesday night at 6:35.
In a quick update on injured Kernels players, Dinkelman said pitcher Blayne Enlow has had Tommy John elbow surgery and is obviously out the rest of the season. Pitcher Matt Canterino (strained elbow) has begun a throwing program as he attempts to get back on the mound here.
Outfielder DaShawn Keirsey Jr. (hamstring) is expected to begin playing games again in a rehab manner at the Twins minor league complex in Fort Myers, Fla. Outfielder Matt Wallner recently had surgery to remove the hamate bone in his hand and has a July timetable, perhaps, to return.
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