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When baseball's All-Stars take the field in San Diego on Tuesday night, DeAndre Smelter will see many of his former competitors on the diamond at Petco Park.
The San Francisco 49ers wide receiver was a prized right-handing pitching prospect and topped out at 97 miles per hour. He also once struck out Washington Nationals superstar right fielder Bryce Harper with a 3-2 slider.
Smelter, a fourth-round NFL Draft pick as a Georgia Tech wide receiver in 2015, was also a 14th-round selection of the Minnesota Twins in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft. The Macon, Ga., native competed in All-Star showcase games against the likes of Harper, Chicago Cubs third basemen Kris Bryant and Baltimore Orioles third basemen Manny Machado.
Those players have combined for 63 home runs and 170 RBI in the first half of the 2016 MLB campaign and will start in Tuesday's All-Star showcase.
In 2010, Smelter was named a Louisville Slugger All-American as a prep star for Tattnall Square Academy. He also threw a pair of no-hitters and led his school to state titles in 2008 and 2009 before being drafted by the Twins. Smelter, however, bypassed pro baseball for a pitching scholarship at Georgia Tech. Smelter ultimately felt that it would be best to pursue his college degree and receive more playing experience on the mound.
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"I definitely felt like I was one of the best players out of that class," Smelter said earlier this offseason. "It was unfortunate that shoulder injuries held me back, but I'm glad to see some of those guys doing well in 'The Bigs.'"
Smelter's lingering arm issues cut his baseball career short. He quickly moved to wide receiver for the Yellow Jackets and enjoyed a promising two-year run. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound receiver caught 56 passes for 1,060 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in 22 games. Smelter experienced another setback when he suffered a season-ending ACL tear on Nov. 29, 2014 against Georgia.
"I grew up wanting to be a professional baseball player, and I had the opportunity, but it was held back by a shoulder injury," Smelter said. "I'm glad now that I have another outlet with football."
Smelter's injuries caused him to slip in two different professional drafts. Nonetheless, the young wide receiver remained confident that he would overcome the latest obstacles. Being drafted a second time was that much sweeter, too.
"This time around, I had a couple more years under my belt and a lot more maturity," Smelter said. "I was definitely excited."
As a rookie with the 49ers in 2015, Smelter benefitted from rehabbing extensively and watching established professionals like Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
"It was very beneficial just to see how they worked," Smelter said. "I learned how to be a pro out here and how to handle yourself."
The 2016 offseason was Smelter's opportunity to demonstrate his strengthened knee and ability to compete against NFL-caliber defenders. Smelter did experience a "nagging" injury in minicamp, according to coach Chip Kelly, but such occurrences are common for players who haven't been consistently practicing full-speed for more than a year.
"It's been a long process," Smelter said. "It's been a lot of rehabbing, a lot of working out, but it's been good. It felt good being able to do everything with the team out on the field instead of being off to the side rehabbing. I feel great. I just want to keep it up."