Quickly approaching is the time of the year when the baseball blogosphere is flooded with many versions of minor league prospect rankings. Despite several significant departures at last year’s trade deadlines, the Dodgers are still regarded as having one of the better farm systems in the majors, and it should be interesting to see where the Los Angeles prospects fall in line this year in terms of a league-wide comparison.
One interesting story I came across on Friday was a compilation put together by MLB Pipeline that highlighted each club’s best defensive prospect. For the Dodgers, I almost expected to see Alex Verdugo or even Keibert Ruiz, but to my surprise, catcher Will Smith was the top dog for Los Angeles.
The list was put together by Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Mike Rosenbaum.
Personally, I always refer to Smith as a catcher, but we may be approaching a point when the right-handed hitting Louisville native is viewed more as a utility man.
Here’s what MLB Pipeline had to say about Smith in their story:
“An outstanding athlete for a catcher, Smith has already shown that he’s capable of playing third base and filling in at second. He has very soft hands and impressive agility, making him a fine receiver and framer, and he has a solid arm that plays better than that because of his fast footwork.”
Across two levels of the farm last year, Smith did not log any appearances at the keystone, but he did play 43 games at third base—33 at Double-A Tulsa and 10 at Triple-A Oklahoma City, appearing from the shadows of Kyle Farmer, who was dealt to the Reds in a seven player deal last month. However, Smith did play a handful of games at second for High-A Rancho during the 2017 season.
The interesting thing about the MLB Pipeline ratings is that Smith is seen as having a better glove and a stronger throwing arm than Ruiz. Smith’s arm is rated at 60, while Ruiz’s was pegged at 50. Furthermore, Smith’s fielding skills also came in at a 60 grade while Ruiz was scored at 55. Overall, both players are seen as 55 grade prospects, which is normally considered just slightly above average skill-wise.
As far as overall rankings in the Dodgers system go, Verdugo is ranked first, Ruiz second and Smith fifth.
Several weeks ago, Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group asked Andrew Friedman about the future of the club’s highly touted catching prospects. Friedman surprisingly stated that he expects the 23-year-old Smith to make an impact at some point in 2019 with the big league squad. He added that Ruiz is a bit farther behind, implying that 2020 may be more realistic, even though Ruiz is currently on the 40-man roster and Smith is not.
Last season, Smith hit a combined .233/.322/.455 across two levels of the farm, slugging 18 doubles, 20 long balls and 59 RBI in the process. The problem was that he hit just .138/.206/.218 over 98 plate appearances at OKC, which could keep him grounded in the minors a little longer than expected.
Still, the 6-foot, 195-pounder was a non-roster invitee to big league spring training last year, and he was also permitted to sit in the Dodgers’ dugout during their 2018 playoff run for the purpose of gaining valuable clubhouse experience at the professional level.
Smith will have the opportunity to prove himself during 2019 Cactus League play, and he could be considered for a promotion if there’s an early need, especially if he gets off to a good offensive start at Oklahoma City.