Front & Center: Mallex Smith

Mallex Smith was acquired in January of 2017 from the Seattle Mariners. He was technically a property of the Mariners for about a day and was then included in a trade that netted Seattle Drew Smyly. Ugh.

With speed becoming more difficult by the season, especially in American League only formats, many fantasy managers had high hopes for Smith now that he was an American League asset. While not an AL only format, Smith’s ADP according to the NFBC this season was 349th overall (81st outfielder). This put Mallex ahead of names such as Eddie Rosario (90th outfielder), Avisail Garcia (93rd outfielder) & Marwin Gonzalez (97th outfielder).

Smith began the season with the big league club, but only managed 25 plate appearances before being optioned to AAA. During those 25 plate appearances Smith displayed a 1.00 BB/K, a strong on base ability and a to-be-expected sub-par slugging percentage. In the area that we mostly are concerned – stolen bases – Smith accumulated three with zero caught stealings.

Mallex Smith would spend the majority of May in AAA. This time our small sample grows slightly larger with 104 at-bats to examine. Over these at-bats Smith was tearing the cover off the ball with regularity, ending our sample with four doubles, two triples, three home runs and a .308/.333/.471 triple slash. The strong eye that Smith displayed at the big league level the prior month all but disappeared in AAA however. A 0.23 batting eye is below the target line for most hitters, especially when one’s value comes from reaching base and stealing the next. During this month of May in AAA, Smith was able to steal 12 bases. Before we get overly excited it should be noted that he was also caught six times.

Smith would be re-called by the Rays on May 31st and began to see semi-regular playing time over the summer months. Smith’s plate appearance totals for the summer months were as follows: June: 83 | July: 80 | August: 52.

In June, Smith was able to hit for a batting average of .319 and also reached base at a .402 clip thanks in large part to a 12.0 BB%. A hit rate (BABIP) above 42% also helped to prop these two categories up for the month. With an extreme ability to reach base this month, one would expect the speedy Smith to have racked up the stolen bases. Smith would end the month with six steals – more than acceptable – but again caught stealings became an issue, with four during the month of June. June was also a month where Smith’s lack of game power really showed itself. During the month Smith had 23 hits – 20 singles, a double, a triple and one home run.

In July, Smith appeared in 23 ball games. Mallex maintained a similar strike out rate as June (22.x%), however, his ability to draw a walk was cut in half. This led to a batting eye of 0.28 for the month and an on base percentage that fell from .402 in June to .313 in July. Despite not reaching base nearly as much during July, Smith was able to steal seven bags without a caught stealing.

When looking at Smith’s 2017 minor league stolen base ability in tandem with his major league numbers, it shows a fast base runner, but one who has yet to really master the art of stealing bases. The fortunate thing about this description is that base stealing techniques can be learned, while true speed is harder to improve.

Mallex Smith would see his playing time cut as the calendar turned to August. Smith’s batting eye continued to slide, dropping to 0.23 for the month and his OBP went into the sub .300 territory. The offensive¬†contributions¬†from Smith this month were 35% below league average, making him a defensive replacement / 4th outfielder and speed threat off of the bench. Unfortunately for owners hoping for some stolen bases, despite Smith’s woeful offensive ability this month, Mallex did not attempt a single steal attempt.

So far the month of September has not been better for Smith. It is only 18 plate appearances over 7 games, but Smith is currently hitting .118/.167/.118 without a stolen base attempt.

What role Mallex Smith plays next season for the Rays will go a long ways towards determining his overall fantasy value. With Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier & Steven Souza Jr all under team-control next season, a 4th outfielder / bench spot appears to be in Smith’s immediate future. Injury or poor performance could open the door for Smith if he can regain some of his early season offensive abilities.

If Smith were to stay in a part-time role for the majority of the season, a 15-20 stolen base, .250/.320/.360 fantasy line seems like an appropriate projection. With players like Smith, any increase in playing time should account for more stolen bases, but could negatively affect his ratios as he’s exposed to better pitching and teams have more looks at his weaknesses.

Either way, Smith is a player to keep on your American League Only radar as the pool of available speedsters in The Jr Circuit is less than amazing.

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