Strom Thurmond High School senior Payton Smith was at home listening to the MLB Draft feed when he got a phone call from his head coach Mack Hite.
Smith's childhood dream was about to come true.
Hite let his star player know that the San Diego Padres were going to make an offer to him. Later came a call from the Padres with the offer. From that moment on, what was already a busy weekend got more busy. Smith will graduate Friday night, and on Sunday, he'll head to Peoria, Ariz. to begin his professional baseball career.
Smith, who played outfield and pitched for the Rebels, was selected by the Padres in the 22nd round of the MLB Draft as an outfielder on Wednesday. Smith was the 651st overall pick.
“It's kind of hard to believe that I'm in this situation, but I've worked my whole life for it,” Smith said. “I'm going to try to take advantage and try my best to make it to the Major League.”
The buzz surrounding Smith and his potential to be drafted some day started early in his high school career. From there, it was just a matter of Smith continuing to progress.
The work ethic was always there. Smith didn't miss a single workout in is four seasons, and Hite said he just has a passion for baseball that isn't matched by many.
“Since the day I met Payton, he's been one of the more talented, gifted players I've been around, playing and coaching,” Hite said. “It was nice to be alongside him as he made that journey in his baseball career and his school career.”
It wasn't just becoming better in various aspects of the game, he became a smarter player.
Smith, who grew up idolizing Derek Jeter and watching the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves, knew there was a chance he'd have a shot at getting drafted out of high school.
He got better at not letting things negatively impact him as much mentally on the field, which he said was a big turning point.
“I worked hard and tried to mature a lot,” Smith said. “I had to learn that failure is just a part of the game and it's only going to make me a better person”
Smith was drafted as an outfielder but was dominant on the mound this season as well for the Rebels, which is part of the reason he was named Aiken Standard Player of the Year. He hit .467 with five homers and 27 RBI. He was walked in a fourth of his plate appearances – most times intentionally – during his senior season.
On the mound, he finished his senior season with a 9-0 record, a 1.30 ERA and 87 strikeouts.
He's expecting the transition to just focusing on playing in the outfield to simplify things for him some.
“I won't be throwing bullpens, but I will just get to hit in the cage a lot more and work on fielding,” Smith said. “It'll be a lot easier. It won't be as much wear and tear on my arm.”
Smith had signed a letter of intent to play college baseball at Florence-Darlington Tech, but will pass on that to join the Padres farm system.
Smith will spend two months in Arizona playing with the rookie league team, and from there a decision will be made on any further assignments.