Major league scouts keeping an eye on Rocky Mountain's Mason Smith

rroberts@idahostatesman.comApril 30, 2013 

"He's never intimidated. His unique gift is that the game slows down and he can perform at a high level when the spotlight's on him. That has really allowed him to do some things on the national level that some kids when put in that environment would be intimidated and struggle," said Paul Cluff, a MountainWest Baseball representative who helps coach Mason Smith. Above, Smith talks with Texas Rangers scout Mike Grouse earlier this month at Rocky Mountain High.

CHRIS BUTLER — cbutler@idahostatesman.com

— Mason Smith is hanging out with a different group of people than most teenagers.

In the past year, representatives from all 30 Major League Baseball teams have visited the Smith home in Meridian, grilling the freshly turned 18-year-old on everything from his ability in the classroom to his preference for dogs or cats.

It's all part of a character assessment MLB teams will take into consideration when the 2013 draft begins June 6. Smith, a center fielder for Rocky Mountain High, is expected to be chosen within the first five rounds, which would bring him a hefty signing bonus.

"He is a very athletic kid. He's a dual-sport athlete, and having that athletic ability lets us know that he's going to improve. That's not something that everybody can do," said one major-league scout who did not want his name used or his organization revealed. "… He shows a lot of the tools that we like to see. He shows some power, he shows some speed and he shows some arm strength. All the things that we are looking for, he shows us a little bit of."

Smith is receiving rare attention for a high school baseball player in Idaho, which hasn't produced a draft pick in the first 10 rounds since 2005.

Baseball America ranks the 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior as the No. 51 high school prospect this year, and PerfectGame.com places him 94th overall among eligible draftees, which includes college, junior college and high school athletes.

Although he has signed with the University of Utah, Smith said he will take the professional route if he is drafted in the first five rounds.

"I'm really excited to get out there and play and fulfill my dream," he said.

A professional sports career might seem like an overwhelming opportunity for a kid right out of high school, but it's something Smith is prepared for. He's already spent time away from home, playing last summer in the prestigious Area Code Games and traveling as part of USA Baseball's 17-and-under national team.

If anyone's going to struggle with Smith leaving the nest, it is mom and dad.

"It's probably going to be the hardest on me, just because since he's been 8 or 9 years old, our family summers have revolved around his baseball and traveling with all-stars and going off to regionals and doing things like that," said Tim Smith, Mason's father. "It will be a bigger adjustment to me not having a baseball game to go watch. But for him, I think he's ready."

This spring, it's a common site to see dozens of major league scouts at Smith's games. Several pro teams send a videographer to each game, and many scouts visit him during batting practice.

Smith is used to being under the microscope.

"Every time he goes up to bat, it's like a job interview," Tim said. "They're evaluating and wanting to see him hit the ball, but they also want to see him fail and how does he react to failure."

Last Friday afternoon, Smith joked around with his 5-year-old brother, Austin, as scouts looked on before a game. He took batting practice as scouts shot video and chatted with his dad.

There is always someone watching.

"At first, it was exciting and nervous, a good nervous, but the scouts don't bother me too much at games anymore because last summer I played at the Area Code Games," Mason said. "There there's easy over 1,000 scouts just watching you, so after that it's kind of hard to get nervous from just a few scouts watching you."

Smith has handled the pressure in stride. He is batting .500 with 29 RBIs and six home runs for the defending 5A state champions Grizzlies, who wrapped up their second straight 5A Southern Idaho Conference regular-season title last week.

Rocky Mountain coach Jake Taylor has had a front-seat view of Smith for the past four seasons.

"It has been unbelievable. He obviously had talent from the get-go, and watching him progress and mature into one of the best players to come out of the Valley in the last 20 years has been exciting," Taylor said. "He definitely has a lot of opportunities and it's just going to be exciting for him in the next couple weeks to see how we finish and how he finishes."

Smith's success on the field seems to be an inherited trait. His dad played outfield at Utah and his uncle, Tony Smith, was a third baseman/catcher for BYU. His grandfather, Craig Smith, was a high school All-American in football.

Smith started flashing his athleticism at an early age, playing T-ball by 3 years old with his older brother's 5-year-old team. He's been a step above his competitors ever since.

"This has been a dream of his since he was a little kid," Tim said. "I think he is going to see that dream happen come June 6th and 7th."

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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