[Interview] Canaan Smith Looking Forward to New Challenges in 2018

Canaan Smith was a fourth-round selection (122nd overall) of the New York Yankees in last year’s entry-level player draft, out of Rockwall-Heath High School in Texas. Entering the draft he was named the 58th best prospect outfielder by Baseball America and the 24th best player in
Texas by Perfect Game. He is coming off of an impressive professional rookie campaign with the Gulf Coast League Yankees East squad.

What was going through your mind when you got the call from the Yankees? Committed to play baseball at the University of Arkansas, but opted to sign with NY. Why?
“It was awesome. I was actually on vacation with my mom and my little brother. We decided to take a trip to celebrate the draft, hoping that I was going to get drafted. I got a call from my agency and they said, ‘hey, you’re going to be a Yankee.’ It was great news. I’m glad it’s over with and I’m glad to be a Yankee.”

Now, you had committed to Arkansas before signing with the Yankees. How tough of a decision was that for you? 
“It was pretty tough. As a sophomore, I committed to the University of Arkansas. I had a lot of good friends going and I knew the team was really good. Their coach, I really liked. It was kind of a no-brainer once the Yankees picked me up. If another team picked me up, then I might’ve made a different decision to go to college, but I’m glad to make this decision.”

FAN QUESTION – As lifelong New York Yankee/Arkansas Razorback fan, what made you choose the Razorback as your college and what did Arkansas sell you on as a program. Thanks and Go Hogs and Yankees!
“The reason I committed to Arkansas was a lot of guys on my teams in Texas were going to Arkansas. The facility was great and the winning tradition. That’s the reason there. The Yankees just… can’t turn them down.

An article about you drew a comparison to Barry Bonds. It said you were pitched around at a “Barry Bonds” level. Did you see the article and what does having a comparison like that—in high school – mean to you? (Canaan was walked 32 times in 24 games and finished with 57 walks his senior season)
“I saw the article. My mom sent it to me. It’s crazy to be compared to Barry Bonds but it was awesome to get walked like that. It was kind of sucked though because when I was in high school, I wanted to hit the ball to show the scouts what I was made of. But I got walked all the time so hey, it was a cool experience. I got down in the record books for walking.

Did any frustration ever set in and affected your approach in upcoming at-bats?
“All the time. I had a lot of meetings with my coach and he’d say, ‘hey, you need to relax. They know what you can do.’ I wanted to show people what I was capable of my senior season. I wanted to hit well, but the team just needed me to control what I could control.”

The other major leaguer that played for your high school is Phillies pitcher Jake Thompson. Have you ever heard from him and if you have, what advice has he given you?
“He just told me he enjoys the pro ball route and he knows it’s a grind for sure. I looked up to Jake Thompson. I was in seventh grade when he graduated. I remember watching him pitching and hitting an saying, ‘man, this dude’s amazing’. But he just told me to keep level-headed. The game of baseball is hard. You’re gonna fail sometimes.”

First pro season with GCL Yankees East slashed 289/430/422 – what do you attribute that success to?
“Just being comfortable at the plate. I tell myself it’s just a game and it’s just see the ball hit the ball. You just got to be confident, believe in yourself and don’t take it for granted.”

Luis Sojo with Canaan Smith in the Gulf Coast League (Bryan Green)

How would you describe Luis Sojo as a manager?
“Luis Sojo was great. By far, one of my favorites to play for. He was so cool. I enjoyed it. He taught me a lot. Words can’t explain it. He helped me a lot, for sure.”

FAN QUESTION On Aug 11 against the Tigers East (on the road) you went 4-for- 5 with 5 RBIs, a walk and a run scored. Do you remember that game, and what did you eat that day?
“Probably my favorite game in rookie ball so far. What I ate that day? Well, we got to the ballpark early. I love eggs, so I had three eggs, a couple slices of bacon. And on the way there, I grabbed some Chipotle before the game. That’s my go-to.”

Back on August 11, you went 4-for- 5 with 5 RBI’s against the GCL Tigers. Have you ever had a game like that and when do you know you are that locked in at the plate?
“Probably in high school. In pro ball, that was my first four-hit ballgame. It depends who is pitching. I hope it looks like a beach ball.”

You’re still just 18 years old, you won’t turn 19 until April 30. This past season you were 2.8 years younger than your competition. Is that something that you noticed while you were playing? Is a situation like this something that you relish?
“Me being young is good for sure, but I’m just there to play. I’m not really looking at how old this guy is or that guy is. I’m just out there to play.”

How quick was that adjustment to pro ball?
“The first day I came out to Tampa and faced live pitching I said, ‘man, this is fast’. Probably a couple of weeks until I could do the see ball hit ball. I’ve got it down now.”

You’ll most likely break camp and head to Pulaski to open this season: what are you looking forward to most about the next challenge in your career?
“I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

What are your goals for 2018? 
“My goal is to just contribute to the team, be healthy all season and hopefully break camp with Charleston. We’ll see. If not, it’s fine. Go out there, stay consistent and hopefully win a championship again.”

You also played some 1 st base and catcher in high school, are those positions you would say you’re still comfortable in?
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve always been a versatile guy. I’ve always played outfield. I’ve always played first, third, catcher. I was everywhere. It wasn’t really hard to transition. In high school, I was primarily an outfielder. I’m very comfortable in the outfield.

We know about your power, speed, and plus-arm, but what would you say is the best part of your game? What would you say needs the most work?
“I’m a very consistent hitter. I don’t go down easy. I see pitches. I walk a lot. I’m not just a three-pitch out guy. I’m a hard out.  Probably the little things because sometimes I overlooked them. Baserunning, angle routes. I just have
to develop all of my game.”

In 2016 you played on the Yankees Texas Scout Team in the WWBA World Championship. What was that like?
“It helped me a lot. It was the first time I met my area scout. It was good because everyone in Texas got to play against each other. It was the best of the best, so I got to battle and compete.”

You’re clearly a very talented athlete, and you could have played football at a very high collegiate level. So what made you choose baseball?

“I knew that baseball was going to be my career early on in the future. I love football, but I didn’t want to do it and risk my life making a career out of it. I love my high school baseball coach and I’m glad I stuck it out with him my senior year.”

On September 6, you were placed on the 60-day disabled list. What happened? 
“I sprained my wrist in game one of the championship series against the Astros sliding into second base. I was out all instructs, but I’m 100 percent now.”

Quick Hits

  • Born in Dallas, who were your favorite sports teams growing up?
    “Rangers, Stars and Cowboys. That’s my teams.”
  • Favorite athlete (as a kid, and now)
    “I’ll probably say LeBron James as a kid and now, probably LeBron James. He’s incredible. I enjoy
    watching him. Actually now, I like Ezekiel Elliot.”
  • Player you try to mold your game after -Who was your favorite hitter to watch? 
    “I would say a little bit of Kyle Schwarber for sure. Just being a bigger guy who could run a bit
    and hit for power.” “David Ortiz (my favorite to watch) by far.”
  • What has been the most memorable advice you have received from a coach?
    “Just embrace the moment. Not a lot of kids are doing this right now, so enjoy the moment.”
  • Your personal greatest sports accomplishment to this point
    “Probably my 17U summer team. We were the Dallas Tigers. We came in as the underdogs and won the
    National Championship. We came in and did it again the next year. It was great winning with those

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