Background: Smith was a fifth-round selection by the Padres in 2012 out of Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida and, after stealing 152 combined bases in 2013-14, he was beginning to move up the San Diego prospect rankings. He was then shipped off to Atlanta in the deal that saw Justin Upton leave, and more success followed, as he hit a combined .303 with 56 stolen bases in stops at Mississippi and Gwinnett.
Scouting Report: There aren’t many true 80 speed guys in baseball, but Smith is one of them. He can absolutely fly, and when he gets on first base, you have to pay close attention to him or he is gone. Early in his career, he ran into too many outs, but his overall success rate of 104 steals in 129 attempts the last two years will play.
As we’ve said numerous times, that speed doesn’t mean much if you can’t get on base, but Smith should be able to do that. He has a quick, compact stroke that is designed for making contact, and when he’s at his best he’ll spray line drives to the opposite field, while also knowing that he can beat out balls on the ground with those elite wheels. There is very little power, and because of his lack of strength, there are times pitchers can knock the bat out of his hands, a la Billy Hamilton. He isn’t allergic to walks, but you’d like to see more because of that speed, and there’s more swing-and-miss than you might anticipate as well.
In the outfield, Smith isn’t an elite defender, but he’s certainly athletic enough to stay in center field, as his—you guessed it—speed lets him get to anything realistic. He doesn’t always get the best jumps or take the most efficient routes, however, and the arm strength means if he was forced to move off center, he’d have to be wasted in left field.
Immediate Big-League Future: Whether Smith is successful or not in Atlanta will entirely depend on his approach. If he works counts, makes consistent contact, and puts those legs to work, he’ll be successful. If he can’t, he won’t. There’s a high floor here because of his ability to run, but if he truly dedicates himself to being a table-setter—and the reports I’ve seen suggest he’s a very hard worker—he could hit at the top of the Atlanta lineup. If not, he’ll be a fourth or fifth outfielder with one really fun tool. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Impact: Smith has the kind of game changing speed that will give fantasy teams 50-60 steals a season if he plays full time and if his on base skills can keep him in the lineup. With Ender Inciarte on the shelf, Smith will likely play every day over recent addition Drew Stubbs. Smith is a poor man’s Billy Hamilton with his legs, and this is meant as high praise. Smith has the kind of game changing speed that makes him a must-add in NL-only and deeper mixed formats. Even if the Braves eventually do wind up pushing Smith into a fourth-outfielder role in 2016 after Inciarte returns, 30-40 steals given Smith’s ability on the basepaths wouldn’t surprise anyone.
The greater question surrounding Smith is if his overall skill set will keep him in the lineup. He is a game changer with his speed, but even in the high minors some of this was due to catchers who were at least half a step behind what Smith will see in the majors. Similarly, hitters with Smith’s profile over see an initial BABIP and batting average dip in their first go-round in the majors, as fielders are more likely to get to balls in play and convert them into outs than they were in Triple-A. None of this is a knock on Smith. He could very well stick and be an extremely value fantasy asset. However, while the upside is Ben Revere, the downside is closer to Raj Davis with a poorer contact rate. Both of these outcomes are terrific in fantasy. Keep in mind, though, that what each outcome is worth in trade or FAAB is significantly different.
Smith was already owned in both NL-only expert leagues I compete in, so it’s fairly likely that he is taken in yours as well. If he isn’t for some reason, a $40 bid (out of $100) is an aggressive but necessary play if you want to get a player who could be up all season long and gain you several points in a category. In 15-team mixed, keep your bid in the $15-20 range. Smith’s speed would still make him a premium buy, but a player who only produces in one or two categories (and whose runs and RBI value will be pushed down somewhat by a weak Braves’ lineup in 2016) isn’t as much to salivate over in this format. —Mike Gianella