Coming into the season, I was very excited about a lesser-known, power-plus-speed outfielder who could make some noise with the Baltimore Orioles in 2019. 15/15 production seemed possible, with the potential for slightly more if the stars aligned. I traded for him in two dynasty leagues and made a note to eye him as a late-round sleeper in redraft options. Given this, I am not a bit surprised to see Cedric Mul… ahem, Dwight Smith Jr.’s production so far. Ok, ok, so I had the wrong Oriole in mind. And yes, Mullins was sent down to AAA after barely registering a pulse at the big league level (.094/.181/.156 in 74 PA). C’est la vie. One door closes and all that. Either way, I have decided to adopt this new Oriole and am very excited about what Dwight Smith Jr. has going so far in 2019. So, who is Dwight Smith Jr.? Let’s begin.
Smith Jr. was a late first-round draft pick (53rd overall) all the way back in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays. After being drafted, he worked his way up through the Jays system, getting his first taste of big-league action in 2017. Minor-league Smith Jr. offered solid power, speed, and a good approach. His highest K% during those seasons was 17.3% and he routinely posted double-digit walk rates as he climbed through the farm system:
|2012||Blue Jays (R)||41||173||6.40%||12.70%||0.113||0.226||0.289||0.34|
|2012||Blue Jays (A-)||18||71||8.50%||15.50%||0.079||0.175||0.254||0.254|
|2013||Blue Jays (A)||109||479||10.90%||17.10%||0.104||0.284||0.365||0.388|
|2014||Blue Jays (A+)||121||533||10.90%||12.90%||0.169||0.284||0.363||0.453|
|2015||Blue Jays (AA)||117||512||9.20%||12.50%||0.111||0.265||0.335||0.376|
|2016||Blue Jays (AA)||126||527||8.50%||17.30%||0.168||0.265||0.332||0.433|
|2017||Blue Jays (AAA)||108||449||10.50%||15.80%||0.119||0.273||0.35||0.392|
|2018||Blue Jays (AAA)||85||361||12.20%||14.70%||0.145||0.268||0.358||0.413|
2018 saw him spend more time in AAA, as a crowded Jays outfield limited him to only 35 games in Toronto. It looked like he was due for more seasoning given the myriad of competitors for outfield playing time in Toronto, until an all-avian trade towards the end of spring training brought him to Baltimore. Toronto received international slot money for Smith Jr. and he has been a rare bright spot in Camden Yards this season. Take a look at his production compared with a few other power/speed outfield options so far:
|Ronald Acuña Jr.||6||17||19||2||0.219||0.276||0.392||0.495||0.379|
|Dwight Smith Jr.||5||19||19||3||0.210||0.276||0.325||0.486||0.342|
Not bad for a 26-year-old who just crossed rookie minimums this season. Obviously, the likelihood of Smith Jr. outperforming the likes of Trout, Acuña Jr., and Soto remain slim at best, but the comparison is useful in showing just how valuable he has been in 2019. His performance thus far matches up very well to power/speed players like Whit Merrifield and Tommy Pham, both of whom went light years ahead of him in drafts this offseason. Smith Jr.’s power production has been nice to see, though it is doubtful he continues sending balls out of the yard at anywhere near this pace. His average home run distance is only 391 feet and that average enjoyed a solid boost based on this absolute bomb versus the Oakland Athletics:
Some of his other home runs exited the park with far less surety, including one that snuck around the Pesky Pole in Boston. His current 13.9% HR/FB would be a career high at any level, and given his lower production in other areas (33.7% Hard, 9.3° Launch Angle), he should slow down a bit in that regard. Smith Jr. has been efficient on the bases, successfully swiping a bag in all three of his attempts. His sprint speed (26.6 ft/sec) is not out of this world, but he displays good decision-making on the bases and rates well according to wSB (0.5).
His walk rate is lower than what he typically posted in the minors (6.1%), though not at a concerning level given his limited MLB experience. Improving there would add a lot to his game, especially if he could get closer to the marks he posted in AAA the past two seasons (10.5% BB in 2017, 12.2% BB in 2018). Another thing to like about Smith Jr.’s production so far are his platoon splits. While he does hit lefties much better overall (.333/.353/.515), he has notched four of his five home runs against right-handed pitchers and his lower slash line (.250/.313/.472) against them is respectable.
Baltimore is not going anywhere in 2019 and Smith Jr. should have ample opportunity to build on his strong start to the season. While he will likely see a dip in power as the year continues, 15 home runs are not out of the question. Pair that with a similar amount of steals and you have a very productive outfielder who, despite a lower batting average, could surprise further if he can get closer to the 20 mark in either category.
(Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire)