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The Forgotten Man: Where Does Dwight Smith Jr. Play?

2014 was a funny year for Toronto Blue Jays prospects.  With so many names ballooning through the system at unprecedented, given the Jays somewhat conservative history, rates, some names, despite pretty nice seasons were somewhat forgotten.

A prime example of that is 2011 supplemental round (53rd overall) pick and 2012 Vancouver Canadian Dwight Smith Jr.  After a pretty crap first pro season, where he put up a .594 OPS over 59 games between Bluefield and Vancouver, the Peachtree City, Georgia native was better in 2013.

After starting at extended, Smith Jr was sent to Lansing as an injury replacement where he remained for the season. Putting up a decent .353 wOBA despite a rather bland .284/.365/.388 slash line.  Those numbers were definitely helped by an inflated .337 BABIP.  Nothing spectacular by any means, which led to me ranking him 25 in my top 30 2014 Blue Jays prospects, writing it up as per below:

25 OF Dwight Smith Jr – after starting the season in extended, Smith Jr got the call to Lansing as injury cover and had himself a pretty good season. His .753 OPS led all Lugnut outfielders in that category. My issue with Dwight is a lack of a position. He doesn’t profile as a corner outfielder nor is he good enough defensively to play center. Currently he only really fits as a fourth outfielder, limiting his overall ceiling.

2014 saw Smith Jr move up to the Florida State League where he began the season in the same outfield as Dalton Pompey.  The same Pompey that, after half a season in Dunedin, blew through two more levels before making his major league debut in September and is now the favourite in the clubhouse to be the Jays’ starting centerfielder in 2015.

If you look at their FSL hitting stats (and I realize I am extrapolating a bit here) there is not a huge difference.

Games PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Dalton Pompey 70 317 11 17.7 0.319 0.397 0.471 0.399 150
Dwight Smith 121 533 10.9 12.9 0.284 0.363 0.453 0.375 134

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Which is why some people were querying in the latter part of last season as to why Smith wasn’t climbing the ladder as well.  A question I touched on somewhat when discussing Pompey with former C’s manager Clayton McCullough.

The Jays felt that he was at the level he needed to be at.  And I don’t think you can dismiss the defensive portion of the game.  Pompey projects to be an excellent centerfielder.  A carrying tool that will keep him on the field even when the bat goes through the inevitable down swings.

Which is why it wasn’t really much of a surprise to hear that Smith Jr was taking some reps at 2nd base during his stint (as a taxi squad member) in the Arizona Fall League.  An outfielder to the infield is rare, but second is an organizational black hole and as mentioned above, Dwight’s box of tools didn’t really lend to a permanent spot in any of three outfield slots.

Defensive flexibility means that, as long as he continues to hit, he becomes a far more valuable player.  To the point where I started to think that Alex Anthopoulos and co. were trying to mould their own Ben Zobrist, a guy that has put up an .838 OPS in 189 ABs vs Toronto over the last three years while playing all over the diamond.

Despite the positional growth and decent season in the FSL I still wasn’t really thinking about Smith Jr as an upper echelon prospect in the Jays system.

For reference, Zobrist was Baseball America’s #16 prospect in the Houston Astros system after a pretty nice A-ball season (granted he was three years older than Smith at the same level, having been drafted out of college)

Year Age AgeDif Lg Lev Aff G PA H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2005 24 1.6 2 Lgs A-A+ HOU 110 490 122 29 3 5 18 6 84 52 .314 .437 .443 .880
2005 24 2.1 SALL A HOU 68 310 75 17 2 2 16 5 47 35 .304 .415 .413 .828
2005 24 0.7 CARL A+ HOU 42 180 47 12 1 3 2 1 37 17 .333 .475 .496 .971
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/9/2014.

Which was why, frankly, I was stunned when Baseball Prospectus had Smith Jr. as one of their ‘on the rise’ prospects, just outside of their recently released Blue Jays top 10.  Below is a snippet of what they had to say:

where the big asset is solid hitting ability fueled by quick hands and a mature approach that enables him to frequently work into favorable hitting conditions. Smith’s compact stroke and knack for staying inside of the baseball also lead to high instances of contact. It will come down to whether the outfielder can maintain that contact as the hard line-drive variety into the upper levels (and beyond) given the power is likely to max around below average, and it’s a bit of a tweener defensive profile.

I was lucky enough to have BP’s lead prospect writer, Chris Mellen, on the YourVanCs podcast.  We talked about Smith (at the 54:30 mark) and once again he was high on Smith’s ability to hit:

‘defensively, up the middle, he’s not really a centerfielder, it’s more of a corner profile. He can play center in a pinch so already you have the flexibility of three outfield positions.

His hit tool gets high marks, I’ve even spoken to a couple of scouts who put a 6 on his hit tool, or potential hit tool.  If you can hit, that’s the name of the game, you can be a major league player.

He’s got a nice swing, it’s not a power profile, but he makes a lot of contact.’

Pompey’s meteoric rise in 2014 was great but it also served to gloss over the fact that there really isn’t a ton of position prospects that are ready to make contributions in Toronto.  Kevin Pillar will have a role to play in 2015 but after that who’s next?  I’ve gone off Andy Burns as a viable major league infield option.

There’s a possibility that one of the younger kids in the lower levels, such as Mitch Nay or Anthony Alford, catches fire and balloons through the system ala Pompey but realistically, Dwight Smith Jr is probably the next homegrown outfield prospect to make his debut on the turf of Rogers Center (then promptly complain about how terrible the turf is on his body).

2011 was GM Alex Anthopoulos’ second draft in charge and the whole ‘gaming’ the system to acquire supplemental first round picks was in full swing.  Unfortunately, having five picks in the the top 60 didn’t really help as not one of the selections have had much success. One didn’t sign (Tyler Beede),one has played only three games (all below Vancouver no less) in last two seasons due to injuries (Jacob Anderson) and two (Kevin Comer and Joe Musgrove) were traded away.

Dwight Smith Jr is the last hope from that first round.  Would be nice to get at least one win.

(and ya, I know Daniel Norris was the next pick at 74 overall and Kevin Pillar was taken in the 32nd round but we’re talking about the first round here!)

Here’s a look at his swing, including what looks like a huge leg kick timing mechanism, courtesy of mlbprospectportal.com

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