Will Smith has develop into Dodgers' missed and underrated offensive star

Will Smith is each underrated and missed. Why? That’s arduous to say.

Possibly it’s as a result of the Dodgers catcher performs the identical place in the identical division as a possible future Corridor of Famer in Buster Posey. Possibly it’s as a result of he performs on a staff of superstars, filled with MVPs, Cy Younger winners and future Corridor of Famers.

Possibly it’s as a result of he doesn’t even “personal” his identify within the public area, sharing it with a reasonably well-known actor and a reliever who’s been within the majors since 2012. And possibly it’s as a result of being an out-front famous person simply isn’t his character. 

“He’s a quiet man, kinda reserved and retains to himself,” mentioned Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, who has recognized Smith since they have been each prep baseball stars in Kentucky. “Possibly if he was loopy and loud and boisterous, individuals would get it, however that’s who he’s. That’s what makes him tick, and it’s been enjoyable to look at.”

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As a result of right here’s the factor: Will Smith, in his Age 26 season, is totally a star-quality baseball participant. He made his huge league debut on Could 28, 2019, and by the tip of his 14th sport within the majors, he had six homers and 19 RBIs to go along with a .349 common and 1.280 OPS.   

In his 783 profession plate appearances, Smith has a 143 OPS+, a statistic that mainly provides a participant’s on-base and slugging percentages and normalizes the numbers, based mostly on issues comparable to ballpark elements. The typical OPS+ is 100, which implies Smith has been 43 % higher than the common MLB hitter. 

Possibly including context is a simpler means to take a look at that stat, although. For the reason that begin of the 2019 season, 227 gamers have posted at the least 750 at-bats, and Smith ranks eleventh of these 227 together with his 143 OPS+. He’s one level behind 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman’s 144 and forward of Dwelling Run Derby savant Pete Alonso (137) and younger superstars Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (each at 136). The Dodgers have seven gamers within the prime 50 on that checklist, however all of them fall in line behind Smith. 

His 143 is, by far, the perfect of any catcher. Behind him on the checklist are Yasmani Grandal (128), J.T. Realmuto (114), Willson Contreras (111) and Posey (111). 

“What we see offensively and defensively, for my part, he is one of many prime one, two or three greatest catchers in all of baseball,” Dodgers supervisor Dave Roberts advised SN throughout a current pregame Zoom interview session. “We glance out the subsequent three to 5 years, and he’ll be the perfect catcher in all of baseball. We’re fortunate to have him and he is solely going to get higher.”

A couple of hours after Roberts’ feedback, Smith went 4-for-4 with a house run and three — THREE — infield singles. What number of catchers can declare an evening like that? 

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In 37 video games through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Smith hit .289 with a .980 OPS. In 117 video games this season, Smith has 24 homers, 71 RBIs, an .894 OPS and a 3.6 bWAR. The homers, RBI and bWAR lead all Nationwide League catchers (he’s a tick behind Posey in OPS), however he wasn’t an NL All-Star this 12 months. Actually, he didn’t even qualify for Part 2 of the voting, ending behind Posey, Yadier Molina and Contreras amongst catchers in Part 1. 

Yep, missed and underrated. 

“There’s a reasonably good argument to say that Will ought to have been an All-Star this 12 months,” Buehler mentioned. “I believe the catcher place is a type of positions the place the blokes get entrenched, and it takes catchers longer for individuals to acknowledge what they’re doing. 

“The COVID 12 months being his second 12 months in all probability harm him, simply because it was solely 60 video games, however he was an enormous a part of what we did.”

Smith was drafted No. 32 total within the first spherical of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, as a junior at Louisville. Six of his teammates on that Cardinals squad — Brendan McKay, Nick Solak, Zach Burdi, Kyle Funkhauser, Corey Ray and Drew Ellis — have made the majors, too. Smith hit .382 for the Cardinals, with seven homers and 43 RBIs in 55 video games.

That was fairly the soar. He’d batted .222 with zero homers in 39 video games as a freshman and .242 with two homers in 57 video games as a sophomore. 

“His junior 12 months,” Buehler mentioned, “he went off and hasn’t actually seemed again since then.”

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He made an impression on his future supervisor early throughout his professional profession. 

“The very first thing I discovered about Will is he is very observant,” Roberts mentioned. “He’s very observant and he’s very calm. Watching what main league gamers do and the way they work speaks to his potential to look at and willingness to look at. And the calmness, there isn’t any panic. Whether or not it is catching, blocking a ball with the bases loaded, placing the correct fingers down, it is within the batter’s field in an enormous spot. Watching these issues, to me, I may guess on him being ballplayer.”

Additional time after the 2016 season — Smith hit 4 homers in 55 video games throughout his first season within the Dodgers’ group — with Robert Van Scoyoc, who’s now the large league hitting coach for L.A., helped add pop. Smith hit 11 in 73 video games at two ranges in 2017 after which 20 in 98 video games at two ranges in 2018. In 2019, Smith hit 20 at Triple-A, then added 15 extra within the majors, in simply 54 video games. 

Appears unusual to assume that the child who hit 9 dwelling runs in 151 video games in faculty has been a rock in the midst of the lineup — 38 begins on the cleanup spot, 39 within the No. 5 spot — for the staff main the NL in runs scored. However that’s Will Smith. 

“He’s doing issues offensively, for a catcher, that not many individuals have achieved,” Buehler mentioned. 

Possibly, sooner or later, everybody else will discover.

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