Yesterday, the Rays finally made a move that many DraysBay followers have anticipated for a while now by trading Drew Smyly. The headliner of their return was Mallex Smith, a 23-year-old CF, acquired by the Mariners from the Braves earlier in the day.
Smith is the only player the Rays received with any MLB experience; he slashed .238/.316/.365 over 72 games on his way to a 0.5 WAR in his rookie season in 2016. He profiles as a blazing fast, defensively gifted player who may or may not develop his offense enough to produce league average results.
Smith a Florida native, originally from Tallahassee. And in case you are wondering about that unusual first name:
"Everyone in my family has a first name starting with 'M'," Smith said. "But there was a smart kid in our apartments named Alex. My mom liked his name. So I became Mallex. I'm Alex with an 'M'."
What We Know
Smith showed promise in the minors. He slashed .297/.383/.392 and stole 230 bases over his 399 game minor league career.
Smith’s greatest strength is undoubtedly his 80-grade speed. The kid can flat out fly. Jim Callis, from MLB.com, correctly predicted that Smith would lead the minors in stolen bases in 2014 (88), saying:
"Smith has all of the attributes necessary to run wild on the basepaths. He has the speed, and he has the know-how, as he has succeeded on 80 percent of his pro attempts. By point of comparison, the otherworldly Billy Hamilton was safe on 82 percent of his steal tries in the Minors.”
Smith had no problem living up to his 80-grade ranking as he had a 79 SB% in the minor leagues. If you need more proof of his speed watch the video below of him beating out a dribbler to 1st.
So we know Smith can run, but what else can he do? He has the potential to become an excellent fielder. I say potential because he hasn't yet proven himself at the Major League level.
Last season he played extremely well in the field as the charts below show.
Mallex Smith Defensive Metrics
His speed should allow him to cover massive tracks of land, but his routes could use some improvement. Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs states:
“That speed only helps him so much in the field currently, since he takes crooked routes to balls and doesn’t change directions well. The potential is still there for him to play an excellent center field, but the reads will have to drastically improve, and I don’t think his hands are particularly soft either. His arm is below average overall due to rough footwork and just an average release.”
I believe that he can improve his route running with more innings in the OF, but his arm will never be considered good.
The third thing we know about Smith is that the Rays will control him for the next five seasons at reasonable salaries. Which is a good thing if you believe in projections: KATOH projected him to produce an 8.6 WAR over his first 6 MLB seasons.
What we Don’t Know
His offense is suspect. He provides almost no power, and his terrific OBP in the minors was supported by BABIPs that never dropped below .318. Once again, Mallex relies on his speed.
Players with Smith's speed can usually maintain high BABIPs if they have high GB and LD percentages, which he does. He has a 16.3% LD% to go along with a 61% GB% in 2016.
He also walked at a 9.3% last season which leads me to think that he can get on base enough provide some value at the plate. Given the small MLB sample size, and his demonstrated lack of power, we just don’t know how his bat will hold up.
Another thing we don't know is where Smith will play. My guess is that the Rays start him off in Durham so he can get everyday reps and continue his development. They could later decide to bring him to the majors as a 4th OF and speed bench threat.
Smith will utilize his plus-plus speed to play great defense alongside or in place of Kevin Kiermaier and get on base enough with his solid BB% to provide plenty of value for the Rays. Smith is young, MLB ready, and cost controlled, and we should be excited for his future with the Rays.