Notes: Smith looks to extend fall magic
Stewart practices around the infield; Hurdle has security
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Rockies' Seth Smith has hit in only 13 Major League games. He has never started. He's played all of two innings defensively in the outfield, with no putouts or assists. Yet he has a lifetime of big-time memories.
Smith joined the Rockies on Sept. 16. It wasn't until the World Series that he played in a game the Rockies lost. He went 5-for-7 with an important triple as a pinch-hitter in seven regular-season games, and 3-for-6 with a game-turning double in the postseason.
None of this, of course, makes Smith, 25, anything close to a cinch to make the Rockies' club this spring. But for a fellow who is about to enter a contest where he can do everything right and still not win, and knows that no one can maintain a .615 batting average (combined regular season and postseason), the brief history of success can ease the mind.
"It'll be good when I'm not playing well or things happen or you're not getting the hits, to look back and realize that you got some hits in some situations, and you've been in the big leagues before and you kind of know what it's like," said Smith, who like many of the position players, arrived at Hi Corbett Field far in advance of Friday's due date. "But right now it's kind of like a clean slate."
Realistically, Smith's name is on a crowded Rockies 2008 slate.
The two primary backup outfielders, right-handed hitting Ryan Spilborghs and lefty-swinging Cory Sullivan, are back. And if right-handed hitting Jeff Baker doesn't win the second base job, he has the experience of a full season as a pinch-hitter and the ability to play five or six positions. If something happens in the outfield, veteran speedster and leadoff-type Scott Podsednik is in camp under a Minor League contract.
"Obviously, I'd want a spot to be mine to lose," said Smith, who is limited in positions he can play because he throws left-handed. "But coming in here having to win a spot, there's something to be said for that also. All I can do is go out there and play hard, play to the best of my ability and let them make decisions.
"It's a good problem for the Rockies to have."
Last year, Smith played his first season at Triple-A Colorado Springs and hit .317 with 17 home runs, 32 doubles and 82 RBIs. His Major League debut was delayed because he suffered a dislocated shoulder in late August.
He's been something of a doubles machine, with 45 of them at Class A Modesto in 2005 and a Texas League-leading 46 at Tulsa in 2006. He had a little extra-base magic with the Rockies. He had a triple and scored in the 9-8, 13-inning victory over the Padres in the National League Wild Card tiebreaker that put the Rockies in the playoffs, and a two-run double against the Diamondbacks in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.
Smith is still developing defensively. Earlier in his career, he underwent laser eye surgery to help him see the ball off the bat better. He played mostly right field at Colorado Springs and has more experience in center than left.
"The last couple years I've been working hard, trying to make it where it's more natural, instead of having to really think about things -- trying to react, make plays, use my instincts a little more," Smith said. "You hope you can make some spectacular plays to help out the team and the pitchers, but at the end of the day you want to get to the balls you can get to and catch the balls you should catch and keep the runners from advancing."
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said he has told Smith he has a shot. He wants to see Smith play center, which will increase his opportunities.
"You cannot overlook what he was able to bring to the table late in the season," Hurdle said. "He has that going for him."
Split identity: Rockies infielder Ian Stewart, a third baseman by trade who is competing for the second base job, said he worked on playing second in fall instructional ball and had workouts with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki during the winter.
If he doesn't make an immediate impression at second, Stewart will concentrate on third base, where Garrett Atkins is capable of All-Star offensive numbers. That could mean Stewart will return to Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he spent last season.
"I'm coming in here ready to compete and trying to win a job, but if not, I'm trying to make sure I'm getting my work in at third," Stewart said. "So I'm trying to do both."
The true meaning of winning: This time last year, fans had every right to worry about Hurdle's future as manager. The team hadn't had a winning season in his time.
On Opening Day, the Rockies raised eyebrows by extending the contracts of Hurdle and general manager Dan O'Dowd. The decisions began paying off at the end of last season. It bought Hurdle validation from the outside, although he insists he wasn't seeking it.
"Being viewed successful by other people, isn't at the top of my list," he said. "I understand the importance of the public believing in somebody that's leading the ballclub. But for me personally, the people I work for, the players, that validation, that comes with the way they look at you, the way you're able to grow with them, the way you're able to fit in with them. That has more meaning for me."
Of course, winning does help job security.
"I think there comes a point in time in somebody's career where, yeah, you need to have some success to keep doing what you're doing or you're going to get reshuffled or you're going to be doing something else," he said.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.