Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next is Virginia first baseman Pavin Smith, a 6-foot-2, 210 lb. junior from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Smith, 21, won the College World Series with the Cavs as a freshman and was a three-year starter at first base. Smith hit .342/.427/.570 with 13 homers while striking out only 12 times in 59 games this season and is regarded as one of the best pure bats in the country.
Smith is slated to be the 13th overall pick in our latest composite mock draft, with ESPN (6th-Athletics), MLB.com (8th-Phillies) and Baseball America (19th-Giants), all projecting him off the board before pick no. 20 with the potential to go in the top 10. Be sure to check out Smith’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realized how much you loved the game?
“I was born in Michigan, so it wasn’t much of a baseball state. I moved to Florida when I was four, and started playing T-ball. I played baseball and basketball, but baseball really stuck out and I’ve loved it ever since I’ve started playing.”
Did you have a favorite team growing up? A favorite player?
“Growing up, I was a Marlins fan being from South Florida. I got to see Miguel Cabrera come up and stuff like that. My favorite player was Derek Jeter, just because when I was 10, I went to a Yankees-Red Sox game with on-field passes and I got to meet Jeter. That was a cool experience and I’ve loved him ever since. The way he goes about his business, Mr. Clutch.”
For you, was there a turning point moment when you realized you could become a first-round draft pick?
“I don’t know if there was an exact moment in time. I’ve always believed that I could play professional baseball but I never really thought about the draft or anything. When I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t really ever on any of the mock drafts and then I came to Virginia and played in the Cape... that’s when things started picking up a little bit. You get a lot of exposure playing at Cape Cod, with people telling you things. That’s kind of when I realized the first round was a possibility.”
You were selected in the 32nd round by the Rockies three years ago but chose to attend Virginia. What went into that decision to go to college?
“I don’t think I was ready to play professional baseball, being 18 years old and never being away from home or anything. I think college really prepares you for that moment and lets you mature and grow as a man, as well as developing your baseball skills to the maximum.”
What led to your decision to attend Virginia?
“I was 15 years old and took a visit, and the coaches made me feel at home. Walking around campus, I could really see myself here. When I was 15, they were like the No. 1 team in the nation so that didn’t hurt. I wanted to play with the best and it all worked out.”
In the ACC, you’re up against some of the best competition in the country every weekend. What’s that like, going against so many other projected first-rounders on a consistent basis?
“It’s definitely fun to go up against those types of matchups. They really test your skills. I faced both [Louisville pitcher Brendan] McKay and [UNC pitcher J.B.] Bukauskas this year, both in the top 10, and I was fortunate enough to get a hit off both of them. I mean, they both got me out too, but it was fun. It’s been a fun ride.”
You won a national championship as a freshman back in 2015. Take me through that whole experience, what it was like being on that stage as a freshman.
“That was just a surreal experience, playing in front of 30,000 people and playing on ESPN. It’s almost like a taste of the big leagues at 18. That’s another reason why going to college is an awesome experience. If you come out of high school, there’s little chance you make it to the big leagues for at least three or four years, so getting that experience, playing on TV and in front of people with the nerves and adrenaline was a really good experience. It’s one I’ll never forget.”
UVA had a first-rounder last year, with catcher Matt Thaiss going to the Angels. Has he given you any advice on how to prepare for this process.?
“Yeah, he just says to enjoy it. It’s a fun process. You get to see your dreams come true. Obviously, when you get shipped out, he just tells me to work hard and good things will come. He’s still one of my better friends so I talk to him.”
Your teammate, outfielder Adam Haseley, is projected to go in the top 10 of this draft. Sell him for me. If I’m a general manager, why should I make a first-round commitment to him?
“He’s just a great guy. Super mature, he’ll be able to handle any adversity. Not to mention he’s one of the best hitters in the country. He can run, he can field, he can hit for average and he can hit for power. But I definitely think his character is what stands out in front of everybody else.”
You hit 13 home runs this year but only struck out 12 times. How did you become a guy who is virtually impossible to strike out?
“I hate striking out, I guess that’s part of it. That’s one of my worst feelings and I really hate doing it. I do anything I can with two strikes to put the ball in play and make something happen.”
Your strikeouts have decreased every year throughout your college career. Is there a specific change that led to that?
“Just growing as a player and knowing what the pitcher wants to do to me. Just having an approach, that comes with experience and being able to get more and more at-bats and more experience against good college pitching.”
Looking at your game as a whole, what’s your biggest strength?
“Definitely just the hit tool, being able to put the ball in play with two strikes. You can hit for power with two strikes. I never really cut my swing down; I never really choke up or anything. I’m just able to have an approach with two strikes that makes me be able to make contact.”
Once you get to the pros, what’s the facet of your game that you want to work on the most?
“I just think I can improve on basically everything. Hitting, hitting for power, defense and being able to deal with the slumps and the down-times. The mental side of the game is definitely something you can always improve on.”
You had a lot of experience pitching in high school. Does that help you as a hitter at all?
“I really haven’t pitched in a long time, so I really don’t think it has really helped or hurt me. Just being able to face pitchers over and over again... the more at-bats you get, the more you have a feel for what they want to do to you. I don’t think being a former pitcher really helps me at all.”
If you had to pick a major-leaguer that has a similar game to yours, who would it be?
“I would say Eric Hosmer or Anthony Rizzo. I know Rizzo with two strikes really shortens up and puts the ball in play. Both are great defensive first basemen who hit for average and power, so I would say one of them two.”
There have been some complaints with over the last few years about whether it makes sense for Major League Baseball to hold its draft right in the middle of college postseason play. As a guy who has seen this with teammates, should the draft be moved to a different time of the year?
“I really don’t have much of an opinion on that. It’s good to be at the end of the college season, though the only problem is if you go deep into the playoffs. Maybe after the College World Series to get the full review of everybody as much as you can. If they don’t move it, I really don’t have a problem with it. It’s fine.”
You’re one of the more polished, major-league ready guys in this class. If you had to estimate a timetable of when you’d be big-league ready, when do you think that would be?
“Until I’m proven wrong, I think I could do it right now. I have the utmost confidence in myself, so I’m gonna work as hard as I can to get there as fast as I can.”
Do you have any expectations heading into Monday as to where you’ll fall on the draft board? Any goals?
“No, I think everything that I’ve done is already done so I can’t really have a goal. I can’t do anything to change it. Whatever happens, happens and I’ll be ready to get to work.”