Last season, Mallex Smith was assigned to AAA to start his 2016 in the Braves system and was expected to earn a call up during the summer. However things didn’t go as planned for Atlanta as Ender Inciarte strained his hamstring and hit the disabled list three games into the season.
Smith was called up as his replacement.
Over the next three months, Smith played in 59 games and received 192 PA where he hit .237/.312/.379 and 85 wRC+ as the everyday center fielder until Ender Inciarte returned from the DL. Smith then moved to left field, getting the lion’s share of a platoon.
On June 19th, Smith fractured his left thumb after being hit by a pitch, causing him to hit the disabled list and was expected to miss the next ten weeks.
Smith started his rehab assignment on September 1 and spent 12 games with the Braves Double-A affiliate, until the end of the Double-A season. He was then activated by the Braves and played in 14 games as a fourth outfielder, receiving 23 PA and three starts.
Due to his coverage for Inciarte’s injury, Smith earned a full season of MLB service time and now sits at 1 year, 0 days played. As thing stand, the Rays will have control for the next five years through his rookie contract, and Smith will be eligible for free agency after the 2021 season.
However, if Smith is sent to the minors for at least twenty days next season, his rookie contract will be extended by one season, providing an extra year of control to the Rays while making Mallex Smith a Super-2 prospect (one who receives salary arbitration over the final four years of his contract, as opposed to just the final three).
I expect the Rays will lock in the extra year of team control by having him spend those 20 days in the minors, at a minimum. Should he stay in the minors long enough, he could lose that Super-2 eligibility, but that’s not something the Rays should be afraid to embrace if he’s needed in the field.
More than monetary reasons?
Yes there are financial reasons why Smith should start the season patrolling center field for the Durham Bulls, which the Rays are sure to embrace, but the reasons aren’t limited to the financial and control considerations. It’s quite possible Mallex Smith could use more seasoning in the minors.
Smith has 134 games and 583 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. It’s reasonable to surmise that his development has been rushed to the majors at 22 years old last year, and unless an injury occurred in Spring Training, it’s unlikely Smith will be able to force someone like Souza off the roster.
Instead of toiling on the bench, Smith could use the everyday at bats that he would get in Durham. The Rays have the luxury of allowing him to play in Triple-A next season, where he will be a phone call away when one of the outfielders hits the disabled list or under performs.
His addition gives the Rays more flexibility where they didn’t have as much depth as they do elsewhere around the diamond. Before agreeing to a deal with Colby Rasmus and acquiring Mallex Smith the Rays fourth outfielder to start the season was likely Mikie Mahtook. Now there will be a significant competition on the roster, and the Rays won’t be counting on players like Jaff Decker and Oswaldo Arcia to perform like they did last year.
Mallex Smith likely won’t be on the Opening Day roster, but he should provide a positive impact sometime in 2017, and will challenge the organization’s players to perform at a higher level.