Arizona Diamondbacks: Power-hitting Smith taken with first pick

Pavin Smith from the University of Virginia was the Diamondbacks first selection Monday. (Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)
Pavin Smith from the University of Virginia was the Diamondbacks first selection Monday. (Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports) /

With their initial pick, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected a power-hitting college first baseman.

The potential is written all over Pavin Smith, who became the initial pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks of the 2017 draft. While Smith comes into professional baseball as a first baseman with an impressive skill set, there is a formidable roadblock in his way.

At 29-years-old, Paul Goldschmidt, a perennial All-Star and considered the core of the Arizona franchise, is just hitting the sweet spot of his career. At this point, Goldschmidt looks to be the Diamondbacks first baseman for the foreseeable future. Where that leaves Smith, selected at number seven out of the University of Virginia in Monday’s draft, remains somewhat cloudy.

What is certain is that the Diamondbacks drafted a player who could be on the fast track to the major leagues. Where he eventually ends up playing in Chase Field is a matter to be determined. That could likely be in left field.

On a conference call right after his selection by Arizona, Smith told Venom Strikes that he played left field in half of the games during his freshman year and each Sunday during this season, his junior year. Clearly, he is aware of Goldschmidt and explained what he thought the principal reason for his selection.

"I have a versatility and I think they recognized that. I had zero idea that I would be drafted by Arizona. I had a call with (general manager Mike Hazen and scouting director Deric Ladnier) Sunday night. I think they were calling about my character, and I really look forward to join the organization."

In the end, that’s not what the Arizona originally has in mind. At 21-years-old, Smith certainly has a start on the high school players drafted and if his skill sets develop, as the Diamondbacks hope, he could be on a fast track to the majors. Despite Goldschmidt holding down first, Ladnier pointed out to Venom Strikes in a conference call Monday night the plan is to place Smith into the organization as a first baseman.

"We have no plans to move Smith. He’ll start in the organization at first. He is an accomplished college hitter with power and the ability to barrel up the ball. Again, he will play first and will not transition to another position"


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Of his skills set, Smith comes into the Diamondbacks organization as a hitter with an intelligent eye. Possessing a strong command of the strike zone and a heightened pitch-recognition ability, Smith’s eye at the plate could be his greatest asset. Here’s a hitter who struck out only 12 times in 59 games for the Cavaliers this past season, hit .342, hammered 13 homers and drove in 77 runs. On draft day, Smith was compared to San Francisco Giants’ first baseman Brandon Belt, and each with similar power to a left-handed swing.

As the seventh pick overall, Smith, when he signs, earns $5 million.

By the conclusion of the first day, the Diamondbacks selected Drew Ellis, a third baseman out of the University of Louisville (number 44, $1.7 million). With their third pick, catcher Daulton Varsho from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was selected in the Competitive Balance B section and pick number 68 ($880.1). Vasho is the son of ex-major leaguer Gary Varsho, and named for his father’s former teammate Darren Daulton when Varsho played for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Diamondbacks have an opportunity to closely watch Ellis. That because his Cardinals advanced to College World Series in Omaha and open play this Sunday night (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) against Texas A&M.

"Arizona Diamondbacks: Ray competitive in a very competitive game"

Overall, Ladnier told Venom Strikes the organization was pleased to select what he described as “three accomplished college bats.” Plus, the draft philosophy of the organization changed, and Ladnier pointed out the Diamondbacks were well prepared for the moment.

"There fresh ideas here and energic people. What we wanted to do was blend trends, analytics and pure scouting into our selections We had two goals that guided us. First, we wanted a bat which covered the zone and then get professional at-bats from those hitters. We came up with a unique blend in these three, and very happy with the selections."