Mallex Smith was a bit of a throw-in in the Justin Upton deal this December, but in his short time with the Braves he has greatly outplayed expectations. He possesses the best speed in the Braves system, and that has allowed him to steal over 30 bases in 4 months of a Brave. He has quickly gone from a low ceiling outfielder to the potential center fielder of the future. He drew comparisons to Kenny Lofton in spring training, and he has lived up to that aggressive comparison so far.
Level: Class AAA - Gwinnett Braves
Position: Center Field
Height/Weight: 5'9" 170lbs
Born: 5/6/1993 Tallahassee, Florida
Drafted: 5th Round in 2012 by San Diego
Acquired: Trade with San Diego in 2014
Bats: Left Throws: Right
85 G; .298/.366/.370; 2 HR; 7 2B; 5 3B; 51 R; 28 RBI; 35 SB; 34 BB; 60 K over AA/AAA
Mallex's time in Mississippi was highly successful as he posted a .340/.418/.413 slash line with 23 stolen bases in 57 games before being promoted to Gwinnett on June 24. He has struggled in his time in AAA, posting a .221/.264/.292 slash line in 28 games. His BB rate has fallen from 11.2% in AA to 5.7% in AAA. He missed time with an injury from April 26 to May 1, and later missed a couple straight games in June, though the breaks may not be related. He has posted 3 8 game hit streaks this season, and just recently ended his best streak in AAA of 5 games. Despite his good play He has had a drop off in stolen bases this season, but still leads the system with 35.
From Day 1 Smith has put up good offensive numbers in the minor leagues. He has slashed .292/.379/.384 in 350 career games over 4 seasons. He has a short, line drive swing and patient approach that allows him to spray singles all over the field and draw a good number of walks and keep his OBP up. He is a willing bunter and hustles out of the box, allowing him to put up a high BABIP and compensate for his fairly high K rate. His swing seemed a bit stiff live, and he had trouble turning on fastballs. With the exception of a couple of pitches that he rolled over to the right side, every single fastball he made contact with was sprayed to the left side of the field-most of them foul. This seems to fall in line with his numbers this year-78 of his 103 balls hit to the outfield have been to center field or left field. He has a notably short swing, and will be lucky to hit home runs at the major league level. He will likely not bulk up, as that is not his game, and there is a good chance he may not even develop gap power. This of course limits his top end offensive potential, and will leave him relying on his speed to create hits and get him on base. I have rarely seen him hit the ball very hard, and it is a question whether he will have the strength to create offense at the major league level. While his speed and minor league numbers show him as a prototypical leadoff hitter he may better project as a speedy bottom of the order hitter that helps turn the lineup over.
Hit Tool: 40/50
Raw Power: 30/30
Smith's speed is his carrying tool, and is quite simply astounding. I have clocked him at 3.7 seconds from home to first on a bunt attempt, 3.8 seconds on a swing, and at 3 seconds flat stealing 3rd base. He is an absolute force on the basepaths, and any ball he puts in play puts pressure on the defense. He has a good idea of his style, and plays to his speed by hitting 65% ground balls. He has improved his jumps at first base, and has stolen a career high 81.4% of bases this year. In the outfield he is able to track down nearly any ball hit, and closes well on balls in the gap. He has elite speed and could be a potential 80 base stealer in the majors
Speed Tool: 80/80
Mallex is without a doubt a pure center fielder, and his speed makes him a potential plus defender at the position. This is, however, his only above average defensive skill at this point. He plays a very shallow center field, but struggles to track balls behind him. He struggles with his reads and impacts his own defensive range with poor angles and reads. He often redirects himself multiple times tracking a fly ball, and tends to struggle to catch balls hit near the wall. This is due to a level of timidity once he hits the warning track, and he usually comes off of his read and tries to reach out and catch the ball away from his body. On balls hit to the gaps and in front of him he is a good defender, and does a much better job of getting to the ball without event. I'm not without hope though, as he has made strides in his defense since last year. He is a bit of a work in progress in the outfield but he makes up for it with his speed and should be at worst an average defender. His arm will prevent him from being able to play right field, but I think it is better than most reports say. There isn't a ton of strength there, but he makes accurate throws and gets rid of the ball quickly. He charges the ball well and positions his feet to get the ball to a good throwing position in a short motion. I have upgraded his arm grade 5 points because of this, and he should do a fair job of controlling the run game though he will never rack up impressive assist numbers.
My personal view of Mallex was not very flattering, but he did not seem to have the same swing as his typical self. He has a much looser, more fluid swing, but he still has not been able to turn on pitches. This is a major point of concern, as a high BABIP will somewhat transfer to Atlanta, but he will need to put the ball in the outfied to be truly successful. He hustles hard on the field and has a generally positive attitude. He seems to gel well with the players on his team, even the ones much older than him, and makes a concerted effort to take time for the fans. He doesn't get home run happy and has a great understanding of his skillset as a player. He has made noticeable improvements defensively, which indicates that he puts in hard work on more tham just his offensive game. While I need to see much more to project him as a top player in the system, he has shown enough to project as a good major league starter. He will be given a shot to earn the starting role out of spring training in 2016, and his success will depend majorly on the work he puts in this offseason
Overall Grade: 40/50