If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll know that occasionally we like to pick a position on the Dodgers‘ farm and discuss exactly how much minor league depth there is at that particular position. About twice per year, we take a look at catcher and analyze the top handful of prospects in the system. Up until recently, Keibert Ruiz normally headlined the list; however, at the midway point of 2018, the versatile Will Smith has seemingly overtaken Ruiz and could be on a super-fast track to the big leagues.
As it stands now, Smith is slashing a handy .296/.391/.614 with 16 long balls and 30 RBI in 189 AB over 54 games for Double-A Tulsa this season. Smith and Ruiz are splitting the catching duties for the Drillers, but Smith also moonlights as a third baseman while he’s not behind the dish. But what’s even more impressive than his slash line is that he’s now hit a home run in four straight games. He has five long balls in his last six games and nine bombs in his last 14 contests.
For those unfamiliar with Smith, the Dodgers selected him 32nd overall with their second choice in the first round of the 2016 MLB draft. At the time, the right-handed hitting Kentucky native 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 at Louisville in 2016, having hit .380 with eight doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBI in 53 games, alongside a .476 OBP and a .573 SLG. 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 ninth best prospect in the Dodgers organization and has high praise for the 23-year-old, 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 previously believed that he’s more of an on-base machine than a power threat, although his 16 home runs this season show just how much his offensive prowess has evolved.
In his first professional year with the Dodgers at the tail-end of 2016, 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.
Last year, in between fighting off a few injuries, he hit .231/.358/.446 with 11 homers, splitting time at both Rancho and Tulsa. He represented the Dodgers in the Arizona Fall League in October, where he was named as an All-Star at the conclusion of play.
Looking ahead, Smith has a legitimate shot of seeing major league action next season, assuming the club does not pursue another contract with would-be free agent Yasmani Grandal. The catching department will certainly be in the spotlight over the winter, as management will need to decide if Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer are a formidable enough force to handle all the catching duties at the big league level.