One of the best aspects of following the Blue Jays system is watching the rise of a breakout prospect. In 2014, we watched Dalton Pompey begin the year in High A, and finish it in the majors. Anthony Alford was 2015’s breakout prospect after giving up his college football commitment. In 2016, Conner Greene added velo to his curve ball, and pitched at three levels. Last year, after an off-season visit to the optometrist, it was Danny Jansen’s turn.
This year, it’s been Kevin Smith who has been on the helium watch.
A 4th round pick last June, Smith had a reputation as a glove-first player. Baseball America was not wild about his bat:
“I had a loop in my swing and I’m not really sure how it got there. Looking at swings, I can tell when something’s off. I was getting way under the ball, coming way up through it and I really wasn’t on plane with it for a while. The whole off-season was just trying to work on that ball up and that was what was giving me trouble, fastballs up, I’d try to cheat to it and then get exposed with breaking balls away.
The adjustments helped Smith get to the ball on time in a more consistent fashion, and allowed him to make harder contact to all fields:
Smith got off to a slow start after his promotion to Dunedin, going for 4-25 in his first half-dozen games. Since that time, he’s been on fire, with six multi-hit games in his last seven, brining his line up to .351/.406/.491.
A regular observer at Dunedin games quickly became impressed with Smith. “Plays hard, carries himself well. Dependable at SS, above average arm,” he noted. “I watch him pre pitch, he never takes his glove off his hand, he’s always aligned properly where the catcher is set up. Is equally adept at going left or right for ground balls, rarely makes mistakes from obvious carelessness or mental lapse. Pretty even, flat swing plane.”
A relentless worker, Smith takes the game seriously, and is very prepared when he steps between the lines. He told milb.com:
“I give a lot of everything to my routine. I want to go into every game where I’m comfortable where I’m at and what work I put in before the game, after the game, on off days and stuff like that. It’s all about trying to stay consistent with my approach and my swing. I want every day to be I don’t have to worry, just I know I put my work in and the game will sort itself out.”
We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves at this point, but if Smith can continue to hit at the higher levels, he may truly become the Short Stop of the Future. Bo Bichette has shown adequate defensive skills, but he’s not in the same class as Smith, and there has been considerable debate as to Warmoth’s eventual position. Splitting time between 3rd and SS at Lansing with the presence of Kevin Vicuna, Smith showed some growing pains at the hot corner, but threw himself into learning the position. With Warmoth returning from the DL, that trend will probably continue, but Smith has already shown that he has the defensive tools to be a Major League SS.