As spring training games for minor league affiliates of the Dodgers are slated to begin on Monday, we thought it would be an opportune time to scatter in a few more profiles of some of the best prospects on the organization’s farm. Today, we turn our attention to 21-year-old Will Smith, who many pundits believe to have the highest ceiling of all the catchers in the entire system.
The Dodgers selected Smith 32nd overall with their second choice in the first round of the 2016 draft. The right-handed hitting former infielder was rated by Baseball America as the sixth-best catcher in the draft and became the first catcher since Paul Konerko in 1994 to be chosen in the first round by the Dodgers. Smith was originally courted by Los Angeles scout Marty Lamb, and decided to depart the University of Louisville to join the Dodgers after his junior academic year.
Smith had a stellar junior season, hitting .380 with eight doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBI in 53 games along with a .476 OBP and a .573 SLG for the Cardinals in 2016. He was also named third-team All-ACC in 2016, while leading Louisville its fourth-straight NCAA Super Regional appearance. During the course of his three-year collegiate career, Smith hit .289/.389/.410 with 20 doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBI, along with a .991 fielding percentage.
“After converting from shortstop to catcher when joining Louisville, it took him a while to sync in at that position in the college level,” Dodgers’ director of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino said moments after Smith was drafted. “But we think he’s a great athlete with a plus arm, and he can really receive and throw the ball well. He has always had a short compact swing with good bat speed and controls the zone very well. He is a great leader on the field, and his intangibles are off the chart.”
MLB Pipeline currently has Smith ranked as the 10th best prospect in the Dodgers organization, and has high praise for the Kentucky native, frequently mentioning his superior catching mechanics behind the dish.
“Smith is a significantly better athlete than most catchers, with some scouts giving him plus grades for his speed. He has solid arm strength and such a quick transfer that he consistently delivers throws to second base in 1.9 seconds or less. He moves very well behind the plate and is a good receiver who capably handled several pro-caliber pitchers on Louisville’s staff.”
Regarding his skills with the lumber, Smith uses a swift, tight stroke that allows him to make contact with ease. Scouts say that he’s more of an on-base machine than a power threat, although he does indeed have the ability to crank an occasional ball out of the yard.
In his first professional year with the Dodgers last season, Smith started out at rookie league in Ogden, where he collected 28 AB and hit .321/.394/.429 before quickly being jettisoned to Low-A Great Lakes. In 23 games for the Loons, he hit .256/.371/.305, and finished the year with a quick cup of coffee for High-A Ranch Cucamonga, smacking two long balls, four doubles and 12 RBI over just 25 appearances.
As far as 2017 goes, Smith will be afforded the opportunity of settling in at High-A and putting together a larger sample size for the Quakes. Based on his potential alone, though, there’s no doubt that he could earn a promotion to Double-A Tulsa by season’s end, and quite conceivably, leapfrog into the organization’s best catching prospect by the end of the year.
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