With all due respect to legendary actor Will Smith, he’s on a cold streak. Concussion failed to spark the debate it intended, Collateral Beauty was arguably the worst movie of 2016 and if it wasn’t, perhaps it was the tentpole Suicide Squad.
Thanks to the wonderful existence of baseball, Hollywood may soon have another Will Smith to rely on.
When Yu Darvish was traded from the Texas Rangers to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2017 trade deadline, I speculated Smith could be part of the package heading east. Alas, he was not and the 22-year old catcher remains part of the Dodgers’ strong system.
A first round pick in 2016 (32nd overall as compensation for the departed Zack Greinke) out of the University of Louisville, Smith presented value as a prospect on both sides of the baseball.
Along with a fine hitting tool, he entered pro ball with the chance to play second base, third base and boosted his value tenfold by also being able to catch. Not too dissimilar from current L.A. catcher Austin Barnes, Smith is a similar prospect but has a higher ceiling than Barnes ever did.
Smith slashed an askew .246/.355/.329 in his first pro season split between three lower levels of the farm system (Rookie, Low-A and High-A). This past year he started out in High-A and finished the year with a taste of Double-A, unfortunately missing extended time due to a broken hand. While his batting average in High-A Rancho Cucamonga stayed at just .232, his OBP was once again .355 and his slugging percentage improved to .448.
In 72 games for the Quakes, the native of Louisville, Kentucky collected 15 doubles, 11 home runs, 43 RBI, six stolen bases and 37 walks. All things considered for a 22-year old playing catcher in every game but 16 (six at third base, five at second base and designated hitter), it was a great sophomore campaign.
The injury may have halted a segment of his progress and his taste of Double-A was a just two games at the end of the season but in game two, he notched a pinch-hit single and scored a run. He’s likely to begin 2018 back in High-A but getting some experience in Double-A —even if it was just two games— isn’t for nothing.
His upside and solid year earned him an invite to the 2017 Arizona Fall League where he played for the Glendale Desert Dogs. In 18 games, the budding prospect delivered the third-best average of all participants.
With a .371 clip as well as a remaining slash line of .452/.565 (1.017 OPS), he supplied 23 hits, four doubles, a triple and a pair of homers. Also, 16 RBI and 10 walks. He did strike out once per contest (18 times) but hey, he’s not perfect.
A 22-year old catching prospect who can play half the rest of the infield doesn’t need to be perfect. He doesn’t ever need to be. The Dodgers will happily settle for damn good.