This January hasn’t been typical in Ohio with more 50-degree days than those below freezing.
In the Northeast corner of the state on one of those sun-filled January afternoons this year, an atypical pitcher is having a long-toss session as if it were already spring.
And when spring actually hits Ohio, many eyes and radar guns will be fixed on that pitcher — Solon (Ohio) senior left-hander Matt Smoral.
One of the nation’s top prep pitchers, the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder has been working tirelessly this winter, planting the seeds for a successful spring and most likely a successful June as well.
“Right now we have a couple strength coaches we turn to,” said Smoral. “My family knows a trainer in Houston who was big on getting me on the meal plan, and locally I have been working one-on-one with a trainer five days a week.”
It was in Houston over his winter break where Smoral worked with pitching instructor David Evans. Evans has instructed several elite pitchers, most notably the 2010 MLB Draft’s No. 2 overall pick, right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon.
“He’s my guy,” said Smoral. “He’s in Houston but I can give him a call anytime I want, send him video and when I go down there I feel I become a better pitcher.”
Since returning from Houston, Smoral has taken advantage of the warm weather in Ohio. But while being able to long-toss outside breaks the monotony of indoor work, Smoral believes the Midwest winters provide an advantage.
“I do like to be down in the warm weather where it is a lot easier to get out and do stuff, but I feel like [the winter] is a good opportunity to step away, take a break, regroup and focus and get stronger.”
The continued desire to get stronger, to regroup and maintain focus is what he feels keeps him humble amidst all his accomplishments.
Last summer, he helped lead the esteemed Midland Redskins to the Connie Mack World Series title and pitched in the Perfect Game All-American Classic. And this fall, he signed with North Carolina.
But being rated among the nation’s top prospects holds little weight with Smoral.
“The rankings are great but at the end of the day, colleges are not recruiting by the rankings,” he said. “And in the draft, you’re not going to get drafted by your ranking. To me it’s just a number.”
But at some point this summer, Smoral knows he’ll need to decide between professional baseball and North Carolina.
“It is tough,” he said. “My dad has helped me out a lot, he handles a lot of the calls. I’ve just really tried to focus on getting better, getting stronger and getting ready for the spring and also keeping my academics up. When June comes around, we’ll see what happens. But as of now I have a scholarship to North Carolina and that is what I plan on doing.”
Smoral isn’t the only towering Ohio hurler with signed to attend North Carolina that is a strong draft prospect. Vandalia-Butler (Vandalia) right-handed pitcher Taylore Cherry has also signed with the Tar Heels and like Smoral is one of the nation’s top hurlers.
And the Midland teammates are scheduled to face off on April 21 on the Redskins’ field in Amelia, Ohio.
“We thought it would be a great idea to go against each other since we’re both in Ohio,” Smoral. “My dad and Mr. Cherry thought it would be a great idea, we talked to (Midland coach) Brian Hiler about it and he thought it would be awesome. It’s great for two guys that are great friends but who are also fierce competitors.”
Scouts, scouting directors and cross checkers have that day circled. But right now, Smoral is focused on improving his already considerable skills and building off last season’s campaign when he went 4-1 with a 1.82 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 34.2 innings.
“I know that every day I’m trying to get better because there are other kids working just as hard,” he said. “I want to become the best player I can possibly be.”