“It is a mistake to think that moving fast is the same as actually going somewhere.”
Following Kevin Kiermaier’s injury, Mallex Smith became a trendy name in fantasy circles. Stolen bases are at a premium in this fantasy environment, and Smith had the potential to be a major contributor in this category with regular playing time. Smith already has been picked up in some leagues, but you might be surprised to know how available he remains across fantasy baseball.
Over at ESPN, Smith went from being owned in 7.8 percent of leagues to 26.4 percent in the past week. Smith saw a similar jump at CBS where his ownership rate went from 22 percent to 40 percent. In Yahoo’s latest “Transaction Trends,” Smith was a top-20 outfield addition. That means you still potentially have a better than 40 percent chance of adding Smith to your roster. The speed is tantalizing, but is that all he’s going to provide? Is he worth the investment?
If owners felt any hesitation about acquiring Smith, it likely stemmed from his production a season ago. In 2016, Atlanta gave Smith his first major league opportunity. During that time, he hit .238, and outside of stolen bases he didn’t provide much in terms of fantasy value. Earlier this season, he was hitting better at the major-league level. During the first half of April, he batted .273. That’s a solid average, but still nothing like what owners have seen from this recent run.
Over the nine games that Smith has played since Kiermaier’s injury, Smith is hitting .441/.500/.618. You probably don’t need much convincing that Smith won’t keep this up over the course of the season, but are there reasons to believe he’s taken steps forward since last season? If Smith is providing value in two or three fantasy categories he immediately becomes someone that should be owned in all leagues.
As mentioned above, the obvious benefit of adding Smith to your roster is his stolen-base potential. He had three-straight seasons in the minors when he stole 50+ bases. In 2014, Smith swiped 88 bags between Single A and High A. That potential was on display for the Braves in 2016, when Smith stole 16 bases over 72 games. This season, Smith has already stolen seven bases in 18 games for Tampa Bay.
What’s appealing about Smith is that he couples his speed with a solid approach at the plate. Smith had a track record in the minors of seasons with double-digit walk rates, and that hasn’t changed this season. He’s currently walking 10.9 percent of the time. That combination of speed and patience make him a safe bet to provide positive value in runs and stolen bases.
Detractors of Smith’s current production will quickly point out his .465 BABIP this season. As mentioned above, no one expects these numbers to hold. Yet, because of his speed, it’s likely that Smith is going to run a higher BABIP than average. Smith has done a great job of getting the ball on the ground this season and using his speed to his advantage. Among players with at least 50 PA, he has a top-five groundball rate (66.7 percent). So far, Smith is hitting .375 on ground balls this season. If he keeps making solid contact (his soft-contact rate is down), his average should remain considerably higher than it was in Atlanta a season ago.
To top it all off, Smith looks like he’s going to be a fixture at the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup. The Rays are having a surprisingly productive season on offense, and Smith looks to be one of the players that will benefit most from this in fantasy terms. They’ve scored the eighth-most runs in MLB (334), and Smith could factor into a significant number of runs moving forward.
The Buyer’s Guide: Buy
Smith absolutely has taken advantage of the opportunity he’s been given. Owners who invested early have been thrilled with their returns. Smith looks like he could be a legitimate contributor in three fantasy categories. Given this recent run, how could you most benefit from his value?
It’s possible you could look to trade Smith to an owner in your league desperate for steals. Given how he’s played, it’s likely you could get a nice return for a player with Smith’s profile. There are plenty of free agents who can supply home runs and RBIs. There are few prospective free agents who are going to make this big of an impact on the base paths.
For those reasons, it’s also understandable if you simply decide to hold onto Smith for the rest of the season. If steals are a commodity everyone is going after, you’re in good shape with a player like this in your lineup. He doesn’t look like one-dimensional player, and he’s the kind of talent who could swing a league in runs and stolen bases. If you already have Smith, you have obviously enjoyed the production. If he’s still available, go get him now.