The Atlanta Braves fire sale was well documented over the off-season, leading to the team boosting their farm system from one of the weakest to one of the top five strongest, seemingly overnight. I’ve personally never seen a team able to add so much prospect talent over the course of one year. It even continued into last week, when the team was somehow able to snag 2014 16th overall pick Touki Toussaint (and Bronson Arroyo’s contract) from the D’Backs for utility infielder Phil Gosselin.
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The trading has already paid dividends at the Major League level, from Shelby Miller establishing himself as an ace to the promising debuts from Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz. The Justin Upton trade may prove to be the biggest net for the Braves, acquiring second basemen Jace Peterson, who has done quite well for the Braves so far this season. The biggest name in that trade was lefty Max Fried, who we won’t see in action at all this year as he recovers from Tommy John.
Another name from the Upton trade that wasn’t necessarily a big piece of the trade was outfielder Mallex Smith, who has gotten off to a phenomenal start so far in 2015. Smith dominiated Full-A and Advanced-A in 2014 in the Padres system, with a .310/.404/.432 line with 88 steals.
I don’t think many expected him to be able to continue the high rate stats moving forward into the upper Minors, but his first 57 games of 2015 in Mississippi has exceeded all expectations, slashing .340/.418/.413. The 5 foot 9 170 pounder will probably never be a big home run guy (only 13 in his Minor League career), but getting on base at such a high rate with his speed gives him definite leadoff hitter potential.
The 22-year old has since been called up to Triple-A Gwinnett, which will be a much harder test for him to put up the same kind of numbers he did in Mississippi. Smith has been able to cut down his strikeout rate a bit this season, which will be key for him moving forward. He has recently been compared to Kenny Lofton, which is some pretty high praise.
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Smith has all the tools to be a speedy leadoff man like Lofton was, especially considering his ability to take walks and bunt for hits as well. One area he may need to improve in is his caught stealing percentage. He definitely has the speed to swipe a ton of bases, but becoming a better base runner will lead to less times being thrown out moving forward.
The Tallahassee-born Smith is a natural center fielder due to his speed and range, but he still has room to improve in some of the finer things of being an outfielder. More work is needed on some of the routes he takes on balls, and his ability to read the ball off the bat. Since his arm is marginal at best, it is important for him to be able to track down anything if he wants to stay in center field. His elite speed definitely gives him a better than not chance at staying in center.
It appears like the Atlanta Braves have already reaped some benefits from some of their offseason moves this season, but there is clearly more on the way. Smith could be the biggest prize from this past Winter, and has a shot at making the team and maybe even starting in Atlanta next season. Continued dominance in Triple-A will prove that he is the real deal, and should put him on everybody’s top prospect lists heading into next season.