OKC Dodgers: Catching prospect Will Smith gets big test behind plate for Clayton Kershaw
With a little more than 2 hours until first pitch Thursday afternoon, Clayton Kershaw pulled up a chair next to Will Smith’s locker.
A future Hall of Famer and one of Los Angeles’ top prospects leaned over a blue folder loaded with information on San Antonio hitters.
“It’s cool to see what he thinks,” Smith said.
On a night where Kershaw dominated the spotlight, one of the Dodgers’ prized catching prospects got his chance to shine.
Smith, 24, is regarded as the Dodgers’ fifth-best prospect by Baseball America. MLB.com has him at No. 6. He’s had a quick rise through the farm system since being picked from Louisville in the first round of the 2016 draft, joining OKC for the last part of 2018.
This was his biggest assignment to date, catching a 31-year-old left-hander who has three Cy Young Awards.
“I had the opening day jitters a little bit, and then knowing I’m catching him,” Smith said. “It’s always a challenge to catch one of the best pitchers to ever play this game. I’m very grateful for that opportunity. I just try to soak it in and enjoy it.
“Hopefully, in the near future we’re in Dodgers Stadium doing the same thing.”
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Smith was behind the plate as Kershaw struck out six over four-plus innings. Kershaw got off to a slow start the first two innings, but settled down from there.
Smith was a big part of that.
“I thought that Will did a really nice job, especially with a few of the breaking balls that he caught to get some called strikes,” said new OKC manager Travis Barbary, who was the organization’s catching coordinator the past 12 seasons. “I felt like after the second inning they got in the same rhythm and tempo, and it worked out well.”
For Barbary, it was a simple decision to go with Smith in the opener over veteran Rocky Gale, a Triple-A All-Star last season with OKC.
“Will is a priority guy for us,” Barbary said.
Smith is expected to help in L.A. soon. And this was a moment to grow.
He took in every moment with Kershaw, from the pregame preparation to stretching in the outfield to pregame bullpen work and finally to how he attacked hitters.
“He just competes at another level,” Smith said. “He just makes pitches. He’s got command, he knows what he’s doing, he knows how to attack that hitter and how to get outs.”