Smith patiently seeks more action
Outfielder knows Rockies' depth will provide obstacle
DENVER -- Take a look at Seth Smith's .293 batting average and 15 home runs last season and you wonder what he could have done for the Rockies had he started more than 77 games.Smith, 27, wouldn't mind more starts, but he won't obsess over playing time.
The issue is he plays in one of the deepest outfields in the Majors. Veteran right fielder Brad Hawpe is coming off an All-Star Game invitation. The speed that center fielder Dexter Fowler showed last year suggests he can be a dynamic force on the bases. Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, long a touted prospect, finished the regular season strong and hit .588 in the Rockies' four-game playoff appearance against the Phillies.Smith, who made all of his starts in left field, also has a .397 pinch-hit average -- tops among Major Leaguers with 50 or more plate appearances. Smith also bats left-handed, as do Hawpe and Gonzalez. Another outfielder who has accomplished good numbers in a Rockies uniform, right-handed-hitting Ryan Spilborghs, is an option against left-handed pitching. So, the Rockies have reasons to start Smith, and to not start him. "It's a double-edged sword. You can look at it either way, as a good thing or a bad thing," Smith said. "I don't look at it at all. I just go out there, try to get a hit every time and see what happens. "Everybody knows how the talent is in the outfield. No one's that naive. We know we're going to lose playing time from some other guys, and we're going to take playing time from other guys. As long as they keep all five of us around, that's the way it's going to be." All of this is a problem any team would invite. Rockies manager Jim Tracy found a way late last season. Smith turned hot with the Rockies pushing for the playoffs. He earned National League Player of the Week honors Aug. 30-Sept. 6 by hitting .542 (13-for-24) with four home runs and 10 RBIs. He wound up making 22 September starts, with 84 at-bats (the most of any month of the season) and a .284 batting average. "Anytime you talk about a consistent ballclub, a talented ballclub, you're talking about a team that has depth," Tracy said. "That's how someone like Seth Smith relates. An opportunity arises, and when [a player] turns hot, you can ride that hot hand. Think of what kind of message it sends to the other guys when a guy like him makes a statement and you disregard it and go in another direction." The Rockies' outfield actually is structured in a way that could give Smith a greater chance. One of the reasons Tracy could play Smith regularly in September was the Rockies were playing with an expanded roster and had brought in Jason Giambi to fill Smith's pinch-hitting role. The roster at the start of this season will be the normal 25, but the Rockies have signed Giambi to a one-year deal. That gives Tracy the opportunity, should Fowler struggle or need rest, or should Smith turn hot, to move Gonzalez to center and use Smith in left. "It seems to be how it worked a little bit last year -- I'd start some games, then not play for a little while, pinch-hit a few times, get some hits and find myself back in the lineup," Smith said. "It's actually kind of tough because it puts a lot of pressure on you when you pinch-hit. You don't want to feel like if you don't get a couple hits pinch-hitting you're never going to play. "But it is nice knowing that if I do go out there and get a couple hits pinch-hitting, I can get back in the lineup." Smith doesn't complain about his plight. He would like to play more, but he also enjoys a system in which wins happen. "No one takes it personally if they're not in there," Smith said. "We're trying to win a championship. They see matchups. I'd love to play every game, including games against guys like Randy Johnson, tough left-handers. But I also see where you might want to run all right-handers out there. We all work together."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.