The Major League Baseball draft is still nearly two months away, but the case for one of the nation's top prep pitchers already has been closed for nearly a month.Solon (Ohio)
senior Matt Smoral
pitched in one game this spring while on a team trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., before suffering a stress fracture to the fourth metatarsal on his right foot the next day in a non-baseball setting. He had surgery April 6, with a recovery time of about 12 weeks. He won't be able to put pressure where the injury occurred until approximately the middle of May.
Smoral just might have done enough already, however, to ensure that his name will remain near the top of the board when the draft is held June 4-6.
It helps that he's a 6-foot-8, 225-pound lefthander whose fastball is consistently clocked in the low- to mid-90s.
"It's been quite a journey, and certainly it's been a lot of fun," Smoral's father, Steve Smoral, said. "I played basketball and didn't know the sport of baseball as well, but we just did whatever we could to develop him. Everyone told me a tall lefty is a premium, so that sort of helped guide us."
Steve, who is 6-3, played for North Carolina State University from 1970-74. He was on the roster for the Wolfpack during the 1973-74 season when they ended UCLA's seven-year run of NCAA championships.
Matt got an early taste of baseball as a bat boy for the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Single-A team of the Miami Marlins. He tried basketball but found out shortly afterward that his niche was on the diamond.
"My dad didn't really play baseball, but he's obviously been a big part of my success," Matt said. "Ever since I was young, I've always been around (baseball)."
In early March of his sophomore season at Solon, Matt fractured the same fourth metatarsal on his right foot but elected to rehab the injury and not have surgery.
Last spring for the Comets, he went 4-1 with a 1.82 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings pitched. Matt pitched Solon to an 8-3 win over Hudson in a Division I district semifinal but did not pitch the next day when Medina beat the Comets 11-10 for a district title.
Last summer, he helped the Midland Redskins capture their third-consecutive Connie Mack World Series championship in Farmington, N.M.
After pitching for the Redskins on Aug. 12, Matt traveled to San Diego to participate in the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings that was held Aug. 14 in Petco Park. He retired the only batter he faced during the game, which has been a prime spot for college and pro recruits since its inception in 2003. Matt is ranked No. 9 among the MaxPreps 2012 Top 100 High School Baseball Players, presented by New Balance
Matt and Butler (Vandalia, Ohio) pitcher Taylore Cherry, who were teammates for the Redskins, each signed letters of intent to play for North Carolina last November.
Over the winter, Matt trained in Houston with David Evans, who was a sixth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1989 and spent 11 years in professional baseball.
"The nice part about Matt is that God has blessed him with a lot of size, but you wouldn't know it by talking to him," Solon coach Damien Kopkas said. "He's down to earth and coachable. Even though he's been getting all of these accolades, he knows he has room to improve. He's worked a lot on his slide and has really developed that. He's got a fastball that can go 95 and a slider that goes 86 to 88 and darts into the right-handed hitter. He's certainly the most talented player I've had to work with. I'd say he's the most talented and one of the hardest workers.
"He was a sophomore when he developed the stress fracture the first time but at that time he was only a thrower. Right now, he's definitely a smart pitcher. It was fun to watch him over the years. (The latest injury) is certainly unfortunate, and I feel worse for him. I just feel bad that he won't be able to play his senior year."
With 12 seniors, Solon has hopes of making a long state-tournament run this spring, but that will be more difficult without Matt. On March 26 during a game against Westerville Central (Ohio) at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, he walked five and struck out five while giving up three hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Numerous scouts were on hand for the performance.
The next day while walking with friends, he bent down to pick something up when the injury reoccurred. Then he became yet another big-name recruit to suffer a serious injury this season
"The first time I didn't have surgery and that's what I could have done with this one, but we thought it was best for the future just to have surgery," Matt said. "I felt a pop, and I knew exactly what it was because of what happened before. Because of the way it happened, it was probably bound to happen at some point. It hurt a little bit right away and then I went to see the doctor."
Because of the scholarship he has lined up with North Carolina, Matt said he's entering the draft with no particular expectations.
"I'm just trying to have a positive attitude about it. As far as the draft goes, I can't go wrong with either decision. I chose North Carolina because it was the best possible place to go. Pro baseball is also a great option, too."Jarrod Ulrey has covered prep sports for
ThisWeekSPORTS.com for 17 years and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.