Craig Smith, 22, wasted no time separating himself from the pack at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field Monday morning. During an open tryout hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks—a semi-regular look-see at local talent involving scouts from the Missoula Osprey's parent club—Smith ran a 60-yard dash in an impressive 6.9 seconds.
From that moment on, Diamondbacks scout Jim Dedrick didn't take his eyes off Smith.
"That speed's hard to find," says Dedrick, labeling Smith a "raw talent." "There are two really important aspects of baseball: power and speed. [Smith]'s got a little power, but he's got speed. You can't teach speed."
During the tryout, Pat Winterrowd also watched Smith closely, muttering critiques or muffled attaboys. Winterrowd has worked as the Cutbank native's private batting coach for five years.
"He's one of the nicest kids I've ever met," Winterrowd says. "And I've never worked with a kid who works harder. He just has endless energy"
As Winterrowd talked, Smith took batting practice, launching one ball far over the Old Sawmill District banner in left field. After fouling the next pitch off, Smith ripped a line drive down the first-base line.
Smith played American Legion in Cutbank, then one season with Columbia Basin College in Washington before suffering a hip injury. He batted .314 for the University of Portland Pilots last season—his first since hip surgery—and the center fielder will be draft-eligible for two more years.
After the tryout, Dedrick kept Smith behind and let him know that he'll be traveling to see Smith play this fall and next spring at college. The Missoula workout was Smith's second pro tryout this summer. He drew similar attention from the Kansas City Royals in June, according to Winterrowd.
"The scout down there, he was asking about my season, about coming off my injury," Smith says. "He said, 'Tell your hitting coach he's doing a great job.'"