Mallex Smith was one of several veterans the New York Mets added to the organization this week. In 2021, he could have an important role.
The New York Mets made their first notable move of the offseason when they added nine players to their minor league system. This group includes notable standouts such as Mallex Smith, Bruce Maxwell, and Jose Peraza.
While none of these moves are likely to move the needle in a major way, the modern incarnation of the Mets has excelled at adding talented players on minor league deals.
I believe that one of the team’s recent additions already deserves serious consideration for a spot on the 2021 major league roster: center fielder Mallex Smith.
His Game-Changing Speed
There are a plethora of fast players in MLB. However, there is a legitimate argument that Mallex Smith may be the fastest and most efficient base runner in today’s game. The speedster was a terror on the basepaths during his most recent stints with the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners. He swiped 40 bases in 2018 and a major-league-leading 46 bags in 2019.
While his 2020 number plummeted to a .133 batting average, two steals, and only 14 appearances, his year appears to be an outlier. Smith has developed an unfortunate track record of low averages and on-base percentages. These are both things that can instantly crush a player with his speed. However, the unprecedented 2020 campaign should not count too much against a player’s ledger or reputation. The shortened season, disrupted spring/summer training, and new rules caused many great players to post subpar performances.
In an era where elite baserunning is a rare commodity, Smith represents one of the few masters of his craft. This aspect of his game alone should warrant a serious look.
Smith’s overall upside hinges on his ability to hit the ball and get on base. His at-bats and opportunities to wreak havoc on the bases will be severely limited if he cannot find a way to be more productive.
However, the outfielder is far from the end of his perceived prime. At just 27-years-old, there is no reason to assume that Smith is not capable of recapturing his 2019 form. He still holds a .255 career average and is projected by Baseball-Reference to a .248 mark in 2021. He will be an obvious asset if he can approach a .250 hitting clip.
His Defensive Flexibility
Another benefit of having a player like Smith on the roster is the fact that he could be utilized in a number of different ways. In an outfield that already feels clogged due to the presence of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, JD Davis, Dom Smith, there is little chance that Smith would be used as an everyday starter. This will be even more true in the event the universal DH is not retained in 2021.
He can, however, still prove valuable. He has experience at every outfield position, making him a great option as a fourth outfielder or defensive replacement. He could easily slot into the role occupied by Billy Hamilton and Jake Marisnick last season. In fact, he would do so with a much higher upside.
We learned last season that Nimmo should not be counted on as a primary CF. Additionally, Davis and Dom Smith have clear defensive limitations as corner outfielders. Having an option like Mallex will help offset some of the defensive concerns.
The Mets fan base is expecting big things under new owner Steve Cohen. There is every reason to be optimistic that players such as JT Realmuto, George Springer, or Trevor Bauer could suit up in blue and orange this season.
While fans and analysts should expect the Mets to be serious buyers for top free agents, it is also important that the team build a complete roster to complement their star pieces. The Smith signing is an inexpensive and brilliant way to begin this process. I firmly believe that he could carve out a major role for himself is given a chance to compete at the major league level. The team’s coaches and front office should pay special attention to their new speedster as Spring Training kicks off next season.
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How do you envision Mallex Smith impacting the Mets in 2021?