Mallex Smith: Atlanta Braves’ Starting Outfielder in 2016?


Mallex Smith won the Atlanta Braves’ organizational Player of the Year Award in 2015, so is he ready to claim a starting outfield role in 2016?

The Atlanta Braves acquired Mallex Smith, along with Matt Wisler, Jace Peterson, and Dustin Peterson, in a trade that sent Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres. The San Diego Padres selected Smith in the fifth round of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft (165th overall). Smith signed with the Padres in the summer of 2012, and the team assigned him to the AZL (Arizona League) Padres.

-= Related: Michael Bourn: Future with Atlanta Braves in 2016? =-

Mallex Smith hit the ground running with the AZL Padres, boasting an impressive .344/.379/.417 slash line in 25 games with the team. Despite playing only 25 games, Smith stole 13 bases against three caught stealing attempts. Fangraphs rates Smith’s speed as an 80, the highest rating attainable (on a 20-80 scale). Smith registered an eye-popping BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .416, and he posted an impressive 115 wRC+ (weighted runs created).

Impressed by Smith’s performance out the gate, the Padres decided to promote him to Low-A Eugene. With Low-A Eugene, Mallex Smith struggled to continue his torrid pace. While he only played 10 games with Eugene, Smith posted a .188 batting average with an unimpressive .217 BABIP. However, Mallex Smith’s walk rate (BB/9) increased from 4.8 percent (with AZL) to 14.6 percent (with Eugene). Smith registered a career-high strikeout rate (K/9) of 19.5 in 2012 with Eugene.

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Following Mallex Smith’s bipolar 2012 season, the Padres promoted him to Single-A Fort Wayne. Smith spent the entire 2013 season with Fort Wayne. Smith finished the season with a .262/.367/.340 slash line; moreover, he continued to flash his elite speed, stealing 64 bases. Smith posted an 11.6 walk rate and a 16.6 strikeout rate. Also, Smith maintained a 108 wRC+ in his first season with Single-A.

In 2014, Mallex Smith posted his best season as a professional, split between Single-A and High-A. Smith stole a career-high 88 bases. Also, his BABIP hovered around .400 for the duration of the season. Smith’s wRC+ sat at an impressive 133, despite the promotion to High-A. Smith finished the season with his most impressive slash line to date, .310/.403/.432. With Smith’s emergence in 2014, he garnered attention from teams across the league.

A.J. Preller planned to transform the San Diego Padres in the 2014-2015 offseason; however, it came at the expense of his young talent. The Padres traded for Justin Upton by giving up four prospects, one of whom was Padres’ outfield prospect Mallex Smith. After the Atlanta Braves acquired Smith, the team assigned him to Double-A Mississippi. Also, Smith entered the 2015 season as the Braves’ 17th ranked prospect (fourth ranked hitting prospect).

Mallex Smith started the 2015 season with the Mississippi Braves, and it took him no time to make an immediate impact for the team. He spent 57 games with Double-A, and he hit to the tune of a .340/.418/.413 slash line, with a .412 BABIP. On top of Smith’s impressive batting, he swiped 23 bases, and he posted a career-high 140 wRC+. Smith impressed the Braves; thus, the team decided to promote the 22 year old to Triple-A Gwinnett.

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Mallex Smith finished his 2015 season with the Gwinnett Braves, playing 69 games for the team. Smith showed signs of regression; however, it was somewhat expected in a jump from Mississippi to Gwinnett. With Gwinnett, Smith posted a disappointing walk rate of 7.8 percent, but he did improve on his strikeout rate, cutting it from 17.1 (with AA) to 14.3 (with AAA). Smith concluded the season with a .306/.373/.386 slash line, split between two leagues.

After the conclusion of the 2015 minor league season, the Atlanta Braves awarded Mallex Smith with the MiLB Player of the Year Award, generating a buzz about the speedy outfielder. The Atlanta Braves outfield is anything but locked down; thus, Smith poses a real chance to swoop in for a role in Atlanta. Nick Markakis seems to be a lock in right field, but the Braves are non-committal towards Cameron Maybin (also acquired from the Padres last offseason).

Moreover, left field is a crap shoot between Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Mallex Smith. Bourn finished the season on a high note, but both he and Swisher are in the twilight of their careers. Swisher looks to be more suitable as a first baseman than an outfielder; thus, expect him to start at first on days that Freeman needs rest. So, the real battle for left field is between Smith and Bourn. Both players essentially are one-in-the-same; however, Smith is 10 years younger than Bourn. 

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  • Bourn’s speed escaped him this past season; therefore, Mallex Smith adds more value to the corner outfield. Also, Smith can hit atop the order, and the Braves currently do not have a go-to option for the top of the lineup. The Braves experimented with both Jace Peterson and Cameron Maybin in the leadoff spot last season, but Mallex Smith fits the mold better than both of the aforementioned players. If Smith performs well in Spring Training, he very well may land a starting role in Atlanta.

    Mallex Smith’s floor resembles that of Eric Young Jr.; however, if he sustains a high BABIP in the MLB, he looks like Dee Gordon as an outfielder. Smith will never hit for much power, but his plus-speed and contact skills give him the tools to be a serviceable player (and a terror on the base paths). Mallex Smith likely lies in between Young and Gordon; thus, Delino DeShields Jr. presents an easy comp to Smith’s expectations.  Look for Smith to be in Atlanta at some point next season, if not out of the gate. 

    Next: Braxton Davidson: Atlanta Braves' Future Power Bat?

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