The opportunity of a lifetime arrived via a midday phone call for CDO alum Max Smith Wednesday afternoon.
Smith, who starred on the Dorados’ 2015 state title team, was picked by the Minnesota Twins with the 929th pick of the 2019 MLB Draft. Smith played four years of college ball at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and said getting the call from the Twins organization was a dream come true.
“It’s exciting to me to be a professional baseball player, finally,” Smith said. “I can focus on baseball solely. I’m done with school, so I’m just really excited. It’s been my dream to play professional for so long and now it’s finally here.”
Smith was a second-team Mountain West All-Conference selection in 2019, leading the Rebels in RBI (49), a tying for the top spot in home runs (10), runs (40), doubles (16), total bases (111), slugging percentage (.498) and walks (31).
Smith finished his four-year run in Vegas with a career batting average of .281, with 158 hits and 91 RBI.
UNLV coach Stan Stolte praised Smith in a statement released by the university Wednesday, June 5, calling the player one of the best he’s coached.
“Max is a professional hitter,” Stolte said. “The Twins will be happy with him. He’s a great team guy and he’s a winner.”
The Oro Valley native said he’s learned a lot from Stolte during his four-year run in Vegas, taking his game to the next level under his former coach’s tutelage.
“I’ve learned so much over the years,” Smith said. “If I knew what I knew going into my freshman year of college, I believe that I would have had a lot better career, but it was a learning experience and I loved it.”
Smith’s learning process resulted in year-over-year improvement in most offensive categories, with the right fielder improving his batting average from .179 as a freshman to .291 in 2019.
Smith wrapped up his senior year with a career-high 10 home runs and 49 RBIs, while dropping his strikeouts from 57 in 2018 to 47 this season.
The highlight of Smith’s senior year came in the semifinals of the MWC Tournament, when he smashed a walk-off home run to defeat in-state rival, Nevada-Reno.
Former CDO coach Keith Francis, who coached Smith through high school, praised his acolytes’ ability to come through in the clutch when needed.
“Max is one of the most competitive players I have ever coached,” Francis said. “When a game was on the line he seemed to always rise to the occasion. He came through with the key hit, play, or when on the mound his fastball just got a little quicker.”
It’s a short turnaround for Smith, who heads to the Twins training facility in Florida Sunday, June 9 to begin work with the organizations’ rookie ball club.
Smith said the fast timeline is a tad rough, though he’s thrilled to begin a new chapter as a professional athlete. He’s ready to turn the page on the memories he made in Vegas, focusing on what’s sure to be an eventful trip through the minors.
“The teammates that I met and got to hang out with for four years was a definite highlight for me,” Smith said. “They’re the best people I ever met. I thank Vegas and UNLV for allowing me to experience that, and I had a lot of fun.”