JACKSON TWP — Kevan Smith is coming home — sort of.
Smith, 31, a Seneca Valley graduate and former Butler BlueSox catcher, has signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was in an arbitration year with the Los Angeles Angels, but became a free agent when the Angels did not tender him a contract.
“Honestly, that surprised me,” Smith said of the Angels' decision. “I know those are personnel things, but I finished the year pretty strong for them.
“The starter (at catcher) was injured and I caught every day for the last five or six weeks of the season. I was pounding the ball pretty good.”
Smith hit .251 with five homers and 20 RBI in 191 at bats with the Angels in 2019. In parts of four major league seasons with the White Sox and Los Angeles, he has a .272 career average with 12 homers and 71 RBI.
This off-season was his first as a free agent.
“It was kind of exciting, having the freedom to go and see what's out there,” Smith said of free agency. “I looked at this as a possible blessing in disguise.
“Being out on the west coast, we were pretty much detached from family. This was a chance to come back to the east coast, closer to home.”
And, perhaps, join the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“The Pirates were my No. 1 team to call ... They were the first team we called,” Smith said. “I was hoping something could transpire and I could play for my hometown team.
“They (Pirates) said they'd get back to us, but we received little or no interest from them.”
Smith also looked at the Cleveland Indians as a possible destination, “but they traded for Sandy (Leon) and went in that direction.”
In signing with Tampa Bay, Smith said he took the option that looked the most promising for him to remain in the big leagues. The Rays have no clear-cut starting catcher.
Tampa Bay has three catchers — Ronaldo Hernandez, Michael Perez and Mike Zunino — on its 40-man roster. The Rays also signed veteran journeyman catcher Chris Herrmann to a minor league deal.
“Just being a catcher gives me a good chance to get up there with them at some point if I don't make it out of spring training,” Smith said. “Tampa Bay used seven different catchers last season. We (Angels) used five or six ourselves.
“Guys get hurt at my position. I've been through injuries myself. Problem is, there's only two catchers on a roster, so any kind of minor thing like a spasm, you get put on the DL and can be labeled as an often-injured guy.”
Smith suffered a bad concussion last season, but said he's in good physical condition now.
“My body feels great. I'm ready to go,” he said.
If Smith does not make the Rays out of spring training, he will report to Class AAA Durham. The “opt-out” portion of his contract is June 15.
“If I'm not recalled by that date — and chances are, I will be — I can leave and work a deal with another major league club,” he said. “I can put feelers out and let other big league teams know that's the date I'll be available, if it comes to that.”
In the meantime, he's getting ready to play baseball. The Rays open the season at home against the Pirates.
Smith has never played against his hometown team.
“That'd be cool if I'm there for the opener,” he admitted. “Either way, I'll play against them in spring training, I'm sure.
“Every year is a rollercoaster with injuries factoring in. I'm not ready to get off that rollercoaster just yet.”