Will Smith Highlight: From a Prince to a King

It was an unlucky start to 2020 for Smith. Despite being fantastic at the plate, his stats just weren’t improving. His woes continued as he landed on the IL on August 13th. It was definitely a low point for the Prince of the Ravine, but he returned 10 days later looking like a king.

You’ll hear Orel and Joe mention just how good Smith is at the plate in every at bat. He is chasing less than 99% of batters and hitting the ball harder than anyone else on this Dodger squad. So we wanted to take a look with what exactly we have in Smith.

Highlights

  • Smith through the Minors
  • Smith’s 2019 Debut
  • 2020 Stats
  • Smith’s Future
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The Journey

Smith grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and of course excelled at his high school, but oddly enough as an incredible two-way player.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Smith_(catcher)

He broke out his junior year of college slashing .382/.480/.567. Adding 7 home runs and 43 RBI in only 55 games. That definitely got the attention of the league, and especially the Dodgers.

Smith was drafted in the 1st round of the 2016 draft by the Dodgers at 32nd overall. He was only 21 coming out of Louisville. He crushed Rookie ball in 2016 and received two promotions to Single A before the year was over. However he did suffer statistically with each promotion initially.

In 2017 he was moved on to the Dodger’s top 30 prospect list at 14. He spent almost the entire year at Single A (he had a single AB at Double-AA) and OPS’d a respectable .803 in 250 AB’s.

By 2018, he moved up the incredibly deep Dodger system to be ranked 5th overall. He was behind Verdugo, Ruiz, May, and Lux. And well deserved. Smith was breaking out. At AA he slashed .264/.358/.532 for a career high .890 OPS. Mostly thanks to an increase in home runs, at 19. Good enough for a AAA promotion. Unfortunately he would only OPS .425 in his first 25 games at the new level.

And then in 2019, Smith caught up to the league. He slashed .268/.381/.603. He had another 20 home run year, with 12 doubles, a triple, 48 runs, 54 RBI, and a 40/49 BB/K ratio.

All while being versatile enough to play 2B, 3B, and be an exceptional catcher behind the plate with his defense and arm. In his minors career he threw out over 37% of base stealers.

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For comparison, JT Realmuto has thrown out 36% of baserunners over his career. And future hall of fame defensive stud, Yadier Molina has thrown out 40% of base runners. Yasmani

And that was it. The Dodgers were sold that this kid could be an impact player of a World Series hopeful 2019 team.

The Debut

Smith debuted May 28th against the New York Mets. His first assignment was catching Rich Hill and his insane curve and hitting against a solid Steven Matz at the time.

He batted 8th and immediately made an impact. (Even though the Dodgers lost his debut). Smith went 2-4 with a double and a run scored. He’d only initially be up for 6 games but went 6 for 21 with 3 walks, 2 homers, a double, 3 RBI, and 3 runs scored. LA was in love.

Smith peaked on August 1st with a slash line of .349/.396/.884. He then had a respectable August slashing .270/.353/.649 with 12 of his 20 hits going for extra bases, including 8 homers. Smith was doing exactly what he did in the minors. Hit for a solid average, get on base, and when he hits the ball, hit it hard.

His best game came on July 27th where he went 3 for 3 with 2 doubles, 6 RBI, and a home run for a total of 8 bases. He also had the pleasure of being a part of the Dodger’s incredible Rookie Walk-Off Streak of 2019.

2020 Season

Smith was the expected starting catcher with a 3-2 split with Austin Barnes this year but the tides have turned a few times.

As we mentioned before, Smith has a slow start that lead to an IL stint. Meanwhile, Mookie was turning Austin Barnes into a bonafide stud and Keibert Ruiz made a short debut and reminded everyone why he has consistently been ranked ahead of Smith.

But Ruiz was sent back down with the Dodgers still committed to a unlucky Smith. And since coming back, he’s gone 7 for 25, with 8 walks, 3 home runs, and 2 doubles. And he was getting hot before the IL stay as well.

Smith has raised his stats and is currently slashing .228/.392/.544 for an OPS of .936, which is actually borderline elite and already better than his stellar Rookie campaign. He’s also been clutch at least a few times this year.

However, Statcast says he’s even better. According to his batted ball profile, Smith should actually be slashing closer to .322/.472/.670. That’s an OPS of 1.142. Smith doesn’t qualify for the leaderboard, but he would be #1 with that if he did. Right now Ian Happ leads all of baseball with an OPS of 1.093.

Of course that’s not the actuality of Smith’s year, but his stats are beginning to move much closer to these expected stats rather than vice versa.

He’s cut his chase rate in half to 10.6% when 19.1% is league average. He’s also barreling the ball up almost 17% of the time and has an average exit velocity of 94.3 MPH. It’s also worth mentioning that Smith is in the 71st percentile in sprint speed at 27.5 ft/sec. That’s good for the 3rd fastest catcher in MLB.

He’s cut his chase rate in half to 10.6% when 19.1% is league average. He’s also barreling the ball up almost 17% of the time and has an average exit velocity of 94.3 MPH. It’s also worth mentioning that Smith is in the 71st percentile in sprint speed at 27.5 ft/sec. That’s good for the 3rd fastest catcher in MLB.

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The Future

Things look bright for Smith and the Dodger’s. Smith isn’t a free agent until the 2026 season and arbitration eligible from 2023 on. But at only 25 that means Smith is locked up by the Dodgers until he is 31. And as athletic studies have shown, baseball players tend to peak around age 27.

So chances are we are just at the beginning of Smith’s breakout. And considering how well statcast says he’s hitting the ball, Smith could easily be the best catcher of the next half decade.

The best comp we can think of is Buster Posey (and we’re not alone in this comp) when he was the centerpiece of 3 World Series Championship teams from 2010-14. He hit for a solid average, walked about as much as he struck out, and hit for solid power. (that probably would’ve been well above average outside of SF).

The only difference was Posey’s ability to be a workhorse catcher. He caught over 100 games in every season he hasn’t been injured (which is only 2011). He also caught over 140 games for 6 straight seasons.

That and the fact that as good as Smith is hitting, he’s still in the bottom of the order on this stacked team. Although it doesn’t look like that will be for long.

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