Write Kevin Smith off as a prospect at your peril.
As a 4th round pick in 2017, Smith had the glove-first label applied. Baseball America’s evaluation was pretty much the industry’s consensus:
Coming out of high school, Smith was small and skinny. Scouts liked his glove actions and arm strength, but he needed to go to college to develop. Smith found instant success at Maryland, earning the starting shortstop job as a freshman and quickly developing a reputation for highlight-reel defensive plays. With the draft nearing, Smith’s defense remains his defining characteristic.
But the determined Smith was eager to shed that tag, and did so in a big way in his second pro season, changing his approach and mechanics, then slashing a strong .302/.328/.528 between Lansing and Dunedin. That line included an impressive 18 HRs in only a half season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Challenged with an assignment to AA in 2019, Smith struck out in a third of his plate appearances, as Eastern League pitchers took advantage of his long swing and propensity to chase. His prospect stock took a resulting drop.
Nonetheless, the Blue Jays remained firmly in Smith’s corner, and he spent the summer at the alt site in 2020. The experience appears to have paid off, as Smith has firmly placed himself back on the prospect radar once again.
Smith’s swing is still long (actually, it’s an arching, technically pleasing thing to watch), and he still tends to go after pitches out of the zone, but Smith appears to be seeing the ball better this year, and is making much more consistent contact. As a result, the Ks are down, the BBS are up, and Smith is getting on base at a career clip:
Defensively, Smith has developed into a solid if not-quite spectacular player. He has good range and instincts, soft hands, and a strong arm that will allow him to play either spot on the left side of the infield. The 28th-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, needed to re-establish himself this season:
Given the gap between his 2018 and 2019 season, 2021 is an opportunity for Smith to re-establish himself. Smith’s offense will determine his potential ceiling, but his defensive profile still gives him a high floor and he could have an opportunity to push for an opportunity at the next level after he debuts in Triple-A.
It looks like Smith has done just that. With a crowded up-the-middle situation in the organization both above and below Smith, his value may lie in the team’s ability to use him as currency to upgrade a beleaguered bullpen.