Any baseball player that’s played at the professional level will tell you that the Minor Leagues can seem like a never-ending marathon at times. And that can make the most confident player doubt his abilities.
But Josh Smoker has seen firsthand the challenges the Minors can present to a player, and the former Calhoun High star is still plugging along, trying to realize his dream of making it to the Bigs.
Smoker has had a stellar 2015 season to this point, moving up two steps on the Minor League ladder in the New York Mets organization. He started the summer in Class A Savannah before being promoted to Class A Advanced St. Lucie in mid-May. Most recently, he was sent up to Class AA Binghamton. He made 14 appearances out of the bullpen in St. Lucie, accumulating a 1.69 ERA with a 1-0 record and six saves and has pitched one shutout inning with two strikeouts so far at Binghamton.
Smoker’s quick rise through the ranks this summer comes after the Mets organization gave him a second chance in the Minors by signing him this past spring.
After an incredible high school career at Calhoun, that included being a part of the Jackets’ 2005 state championship team, Smoker was a 2007 first-round compensation pick of the Washington Nationals where he spent the better part of six seasons in the Minors with the organization, but struggles and injuries eventually led to the club releasing him in 2013.
He caught on with the Independent League Rockford Aviators last summer where he kept his hopes of his professional career alive before the Mets gave him another chance.
Recently, the Calhoun Times caught up with Smoker to discuss his stellar 2015 season so far, his determination to get another chance after being released by the Nationals, pitching in the Independent League, getting signed by the Mets and his confidence level on getting to the Majors, among other subjects.
Here’s what he had to say:
CT: How has this season gone so far in the Mets system? What has been the biggest factor in your success so far in 2015?
SMOKER: It’s been great. I have received amazing support from within the Mets organization. They really go the extra mile to take care of their players. I think the biggest factor for me has been my dad. He’s watched me throw since I was little so he knows me better than anybody. He threw with me everyday this winter and it helped me out a lot.
CT: What was it like pitching in the independent league last year?
SMOKER: It was great. I had shoulder surgery the year before so my manager in Rockford treated it as a rehab year. It was a lot of fun and nice to actually look forward to going to the field every day.
CT: What was your reaction and feelings when you were signed by the Mets this past spring?
SMOKER: It was a huge surprise. I threw for one of their bird dog scouts and received a call the next day from their scouting director asking me if I wanted to come throw for their front office. I came down to the spring training facility, threw for them and an hour later I signed. It was awesome knowing that I was finally getting a second chance.
CT: How confident are you that you can make it to the Bigs in your second time around in the Minors?
SMOKER: I’m very confident. This is the first time in my career where I feel like I belong in the big leagues.
CT: How cool was it to see your former Calhoun teammate Charlie Culberson make it to the Majors? Did that reinforce to you that you could also make it?
SMOKER: Charlie is one of my closest friends. Seeing him get called up was awesome. He works his butt of and couldn’t be any more deserving. It would be great to one day get to pitch against him in the Big Leagues.
CT: How did playing at Calhoun prepare you for the ups and downs of the Minor Leagues?
SMOKER: The atmosphere and fan base in Calhoun is unrivaled. People expect you to win; that’s the way it should be when you have that type of athletic excellence in a small town like Calhoun. Pro ball is no different.