For being one of the Seattle Mariners’ better minor-league prospects, infielder Tyler Smith sure seems to get lost in the shuffle.
The organization’s eighth-round selection out of Oregon State in 2013 has never hit lower than .270 in his three previous professional seasons, including a .271 batting average, and .361 on-base average last year at Double-A Jackson.
Those numbers prompted the Mariners brass to promote him to a crowded infield at Triple-A Tacoma to begin 2016.
Now in September, as the Rainiers are about to visit the postseason, the glut of middle infielders has all but cleared up. Shawn O’Malley is with the big club. Chris Taylor was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And now, Smith is The Man at shortstop for the Rainiers.
“He sneaks up on you, and he actually has become one of my favorite guys,” Tacoma manager Pat Listach said. “He has done a fabulous job. He is as steady as they come. He does not panic.”
The 25-year-old California native said he was forewarned that a “whirlwind” of activity happened at the Triple-A level — and it especially has at his position in Tacoma this season.
“I was told to be patient, and I think I have been,” Smith said.
When Smith arrived in Tacoma, he was third in the pecking order at shortstop behind Taylor and O’Malley. At-bats were hard to come by — so much that Listach suggested that Smith go back down to Double-A to get more work.
“The organization said, ‘He has nothing left to prove in Double-A,’ so I told them I would bounce him around (between second base and shortstop) here and there,” Listach said.
Smith said he struggled not playing every day in the first part of the season. That did not help him get comfortable facing a whole new cast of pitchers in the Pacific Coast League.
“It took some getting used to as a hitter,” Smith said. “Double-A had more pitching prospects, and starters threw a little bit harder. Here, they are a little more crafty, hitting the corners.
“You are going to have to hit their pitch a little more than I was used to in Double-A.”
And suddenly when summer began, the path to everyday playing time became clearer for Smith.
In mid-June, Taylor was dealt to the Dodgers for current Rainiers’ starting pitcher Zach Lee.
Right after the All-Star break in mid-July, Listach appointed Smith the everyday shortstop. In the 47 games since the break, Smith has hit .272 with two home runs and 23 RBIs.
After starting the past 14 games in a row, Smith was given the day off Sunday.
“I told him to pick a day,” Listach said.
Smith doesn’t mind those kinds of breaks.
“The body might be sore in the morning, but I get myself going every day, and am ready to go,” Smith said.
RAINIERS RALLY IN NINTH
Designated hitter Rob Brantly capped a furious ninth-inning rally with a game-winning, two-run double as the Rainiers toppled Reno, 8-7, on Sunday afternoon at Cheney Stadium.
The win gave Tacoma its 80th victory of the season — only the 10th time in franchise history the team has accomplished that.
Earlier in the ninth inning, Mike Freeman had an RBI single, and Stefen Romero drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to contribute to the four-run outburst.
Brantly, in his third start in the cleanup spot, ripped the double into the right center gap.
The Aces hit two home runs in the seventh inning, including a grand slam by Mitch Haniger, to build a 7-2 lead.
In the third inning, Tacoma took a 2-0 lead on Freeman’s two-run homer — his third of the season.
The regular-season finale comes Monday. Right-hander Joe Wieland (13-6, 5.54 ERA) will pitch for Tacoma. Right-hander Billy Buckner (1-1, 6.00) goes for the Aces. First pitch is at 1:35 p.m. The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.