If there’s one thing that Kevin Smith, about to join the big club after a stellar season at AAA Buffalo, is good at – it’s proving his critics wrong.
Told as a youngster that he wasn’t good enough or big enough, he won the starting SS job in his freshman year at Maryland, garnering rave reviews for highlight reel defensive plays.
Labelled a glove-first player, he hit .301 in the Cape Cod summer league as a sophomore. A junior season that saw him struggle at the plate and a resulting drop in Maryland’s batting order reduced his draft stock, but Smith rebounded once more with a breakout 2018, recording 62 extra base hits between Lansing and Dunedin, cracking the Blue Jays Top 30 prospects list.
But 2019 was a step backward for Smith. Challenged by an assignment to AA, Smith struggled to post a .665 OPS, striking out one out of every three plate appearances. While his defence remained top notch, there was talk that his long swing was problematic, and resulted in too much swing and miss – sent to the Arizona Fall League that year, he led the league by striking out 38 times in only 67 PAs. A conversation with a member of the Blue Jays organization at that time revealed that the club was a little frustrated with Smith, who seemed to prefer his own fixes over that of his instructors.
Smith’s struggles in 2019 persuaded the Blue Jays, who still highly valued his leadership skills and the progress he made at the alt site in 2020, to leave him exposed in the Rule 5 draft.
Fast forward to 2021, and Smith has bounced back yet again. An intense student of the game, Smith made the tweaks to his swing necessary to put him among the leaders in several AAA East offensive categories (he was a leading MVP candidate up to this point). He just always seems to find a way to prove the critics wrong. He strikes out too much? Smith has dropped his K rate to just under 24% with Buffalo. He doesn’t walk enough? Smith has almost doubled his career BB rate this year at 11.4.
Smith has tremendous raw power, an ability to play several key positions, and a knack for making adjustments. Perhaps shortening his swing and changing his approach with two strikes would help Smith get on base more, but he’s not about to sell out and short change his power. No one knows how long he will be with the Blue Jays this time around, and his career profile suggests there will be a period of struggle, but Smith has shown the ability to turn things around.