The Toronto Blue Jays could really use a bounce-back season from shortstop prospect Kevin Smith in 2020
To put it lightly, Kevin Smith did not have a good season in 2019. The upper levels of the minors leagues are a different animal. The pitchers can control better and throw harder. The pitches have better movement and the guys throwing them throw them with a purpose.
The Past is the Past
In 2018, Smith dominated A-Ball to the tune of a .355BA, 7HR, 44RBI, and 1.046OPS in 46 games. The hype train started rolling. After a mid-April promotion to A-Advanced, Kevin Smith continued to display impressive power by hitting 18 home run for the D-Jays. However, Smith’s ISO plummeted from .284 to .194 while his K/9 soared from 16.2% to 23.7%.
In his first taste of Double-A pitching, Kevin Smith stumbled out of the blocks with a .200BA, 6/25 BB/K, 4 doubles, and 2 HR in 21 games in April. The swing and misses were killing his season, striking out 32 (25GP) and 33 (22GP) in May and June.
A surge in July which saw him bat .333 with 3 doubles, 8HR, 18RBI, and a season-low 23K gave some hope that Smith had ‘figured it out’. He would struggle to a .174BA with 4 doubles, 3HR, and 6/36 BB/K in August (26GP) and finish with a .209BA and 666OPS in 116 games. Smith’s K% soared from 21% in Advanced-A to 32% in Double-A.
The organization sent him to the Arizona Fall League to work on his swing. The results were no better, as the Fisher Cats’ infielder racked up 34K in 59 at-bats.
Double-A is hard. Kevin Smith isn’t (thanks jim) the first player to struggle with the transition from A-Advanced to AA but this wasn’t supposed to happen. Adjustments made in the offseason were meant to help Smith handle the high heat, an area of weakness in 2018, not cause him to regress.
The Future Can Be Bright
Being a student of the game, Kevin Smith likes to find ways to improve his game. On the field or at the plate, so making adjustments and tweaks to his swing wasn’t a foreign offseason practice for him. Smith made changes to his swing after his rookie season in 2018. They helped. They helped put Kevin Smith on the map, earning him a spot on MLB’s Top 100 Prospect list at 91. Obviously, the adjustments made prior to the 2019 season did not Smith.
Many prospect lists have Kevin Smith falling from Top 5 in the Blue Jays system down to 15-20 territory.
This offseason, Kevin Smith has continued to work on his swing while trying to improve selectiveness at the plate. Smith will attempt to improve on gearing up for the high heat while also swinging at good pitches and not trying to do too much with ‘pitchers pitch’.
One can make the argument that shortstop is the most valuable defensive player on the field. Kevin Smith has all the tools to become a successful SS. He grades above average in fielding, arm strength and accuracy, and reaction. But with Bo Bichette staking claim to the Blue Jays SS for the next several years, the organization is having Smith workout at 3rd base and the keystone. Versatility is key, right?
Heading into the 2020 season, the Blue Jays’ infield is set with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette. The trio graduated to the BIGS and should stick around for many moons to come. Looking at the upper minors leagues infield depth, we see the combination of graduated prospects and Kevin Smith’s struggles in 2019 have created a bit of gap in the depth chart.
Up until a few weeks ago, I had Richard Urena and Santiago Espinal occupying the Buffalo’s infield. Obviously, this was contingent on Urena passing through waivers which he didn’t. Urena is now a Baltimore Oriole, joining former Blue Jay prospect Dwight Smith Jr. Despite being added to the 40-man roster this offseason, Santiago Espinal will have a hard time beating out Brandon Drury and Breyvic Valera for a spot on the bench. Therefore, Espinal is destined for Buffalo.
Unless Kevin Smith turns the world on its ear during Spring Training, he is set to repeat Double-A which means the Blue Jays will need a veteran MiLB middle infielder to fill a vacant infield spot beside Espinal in Buffalo.
Not only do the Toronto Blue Jays need a rebound season from Kevin Smith to fill the SS void at Triple-A but at Double-A as well. Former 1st rounder, Logan Warmoth, has not developed as the organization had originally envisioned when they selected him 6 picks ahead of Nate Pearson. The slick-fielding Kevin Vicuna had a decent year with the D-Jays but hasn’t shown enough with the bat to overtake Kevin Smith on the depth charts.
Lastly, Kevin Smith needs a rebound season in 2020 because of Jordan Groshans. Despite an injury-shortened season, Groshans should start the 2020 season with the D-Jays. He should see time at 3rd and SS. If he hits FSL pitching as he hit as a member of the Lansing Lugnuts, Groshans could find himself in Double-A in short order.
The 2020 season may not be a career-defining/make or break season for the 23-yr-old Kevin Smith but the damage done from another season such as his 2019 might be too big a hole to climb out of. 2019 was a learning experience, 2020 might be something entirely different.
PS…..Smith will be eligible at the 2020 Rule V Draft
Update: Toronto signing ex-Met prospect Ruben Tejada on a minor league deal.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of JFtC Ryan Mueller
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Lover of all things Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays MiLB fanatic. I strive for average while stumbling onto above average. Rogers isn’t cheap. Baseball is a business. Your right, but I’m more right.