FALMOUTH - Anyone who goes to a Cape Cod Baseball League game appreciates the overwhelming success the league’s alumni have achieved, which is one of many reasons it is fun to attend these games. We ask: Who is the next Tim Lincecum (Harwich 2005) or Ryan Braun (Brewster 2004)?
Our eyes scour the field as we look for a future superstar, systematically identifying each player, and checking their name and school on the stat sheet. We naturally judge them by their physical stature, current stats, and their schools and write mini scouting reports in our head. Except in the case of Falmouth’s DeAndre Smelter (Georgia Tech). With him, your gaze locks onto his 6-3, 225-pound frame and you immediately recognize his athleticism and his potential for becoming a star.
Smelter, a freshman right-handed pitcher from Macon, Ga., is an obvious athlete. He has the body of a college football player, which is not a coincidence. In high school, Smelter was a standout three-sport athlete at Tattnall Square Academy, playing football, basketball and baseball. In football, he played defensive back, wide receiver, and running back, and he was no ordinary player. He was named Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA) Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009, while in basketball he was named GISA Player of the Year in 2008 and 2010. At the end of his high school career, Smelter had plenty of options. Basketball was his third sport, and he still attracted a handful of college basketball scholarships. For football, he was offered serious opportunities from powerhouse programs, such as Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland, UConn, N.C. State, and Stanford. Interestingly, all of these programs offered dual scholarships, which would have allowed him to play football and baseball. But he wanted to concentrate solely on baseball.
"I didn’t want to split my time," he said.
Although it may seem tough to turn down those football scholarships and concentrate on baseball, the decision comes a little easier when you throw a low- to mid-90s fastball. In high school, Smelter touched 97 and threw a good slider, which attracted attention from many major league teams heading into the 2010 draft. His strong commitment to college and a high bonus demand caused him to fall to the 14th round to the Minnesota Twins, but he was happy to attend Georgia Tech when the Twins didn’t offer him his desired bonus.
"Georgia Tech is a great academic school. I know I would be able to do a lot with a Georgia Tech education after school," he said.
Smelter had a solid freshman season for the Yellow Jackets, going 2-1 with a 0.52 ERA in 14 appearances. He struck out eight and walked 11 in 17.1 innings.
Education was not the only advantage in not signing. Although physically prepared for pro ball, Smelter was unsure if he was ready for the off-the-field responsibilities that come with minor league life. "I had to mature as a person. I would have had to sign out of high school and go from living with my parents to living on my own. So time at Tech will get me ready," he said.
It is obvious that Smelter’s athleticism has much to do with his success, but it has been the help of former Major Leaguer and Yellow Jacket alum, Kevin Brown, that has helped mold Smelter. Smelter has known Brown since middle school when he played on the same team as Brown’s son. Brown attended many of the practices and helped Smelter with his throwing mechanics and the mental side of the game.
"He had a great influence on me. To work with someone with such a great pedigree helped me physically and mentally," he said.
It is not hard to see Brown’s influence in Smelter’s delivery. Brown was known for his unusual delivery in a big league career that lasted 19 seasons. A right-hander, he would lift his leg high, turn his back almost completely to the hitter while hiding the ball on his right hip, and then turn to release it. Smelter has a similar style, although not as severe. "He’s got a lot more turn than I do, but they’re pretty similar," he said.
Smelter has had success in limited action out of the bullpen for the Commodores. He has pitched 4.1 innings, posting a 2.08 ERA and three strikeouts. But field manager Jeff Trundy thinks Smelter has great potential to help the team and improve this summer. "We like what we see thus far, the sky’s the limit with this kid," Trundy said. "He has a heavy fastball and a good breaking ball."
Smelter said he needs to "get better at locating my fastball and throwing my secondary pitches for consistent strikes."
Last season was Smelter’s first concentrating solely on baseball. Now that his efforts will not be divided among three different sports, he can tap into his full potential in baseball. And it’s quite possible that Cape League fans in future years will be scouring the field and asking, "Who is the next DeAndre Smelter?"