Dwight Smith Jr. is about to begin his sixth season in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system and hopes 2017 will be the year he tells his father he’s a major leaguer too. The son of former Chicago Cubs/California Angels/Baltimore Orioles/Atlanta Braves outfielder Dwight Smith was the reason the Jays were not shut out in Grapefruit League action, driving in both runs in an 8-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte Sunday.
The younger Smith was a supplemental first round pick of the Blue Jays in the 2011 draft. The 53rd overall pick from McIntosh High School in McIntosh, Georgia turned down a scholarship from Georgia Tech and signed for an above-slot bonus of $800,000. The Jays essentially paid another $500,000 on top of that for the right to select the Peachtree City, Georgia native. The Blue Jays got the pick as compensation from the Colorado Rockies who signed free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo on January 4, 2010. The Dominican backstop was sent to Toronto by Colorado two months earlier as part of a conditional deal. The Jays turned down a $2.5 million option to sign Olivo, buying him out for a half-million dollars instead.
Smith debuted with the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2012 and put together a six-game hitting streak after going hitless in his first two contests. The 5-foot-11 outfielder homered on consecutive nights in the last two games of that stretch in Kingsport June 29 and June 30. A 3-for-5 game in Pulaski July 12 pushed Smith’s batting average to .261 but despite nine multi-hit efforts in July and four home runs, nine doubles and one triple overall, his batting line sagged to .226/.289/.340 with the Bluef-Jays.
Smith was then promoted to Vancouver August 9 and joined the C’s in Tri-City that night where he struck out in a pinch-hit appearance. He did collect two hits the next night, contributing a double and two runs batted in a 10-4 win over the Dust Devils. Smith also got an outfield assist by cutting down a runner at second base from left field. He went 0-for-4 in his Nat Bailey Stadium debut against the Yakima Bears August 11 before collecting his first hit on Canadian soil August 12.
Smith did put together a four-game hit streak with the C’s. He had a pair of multi-hit games against the Boise Hawks on August 22 and August 26, getting on base all four times in the latter game with two hits and two walks. Those two highs were matched by pair of lows in a platinum sombrero August 23 and a 0-for-15 skid to end the regular season, dropping his slash stats to .175/.254/.254 without a home run.
Smith started just one game in the 2012 playoffs as first round pick D.J. Davis was promoted from Bluefield in the regular season’s final week. Smith’s biggest contribution came in the eighth inning of the third and deciding game of the Northwest League final. He came off the bench to draw the first of two walks and scored the tying run as part of a seven-run rally to help Vancouver win its second straight championship against the Boise Hawks in Idaho.
He was rated the Blue Jays #18 prospect according to Batter’s Box after the 2012 season. Here is what was said about him in his prospect review.
The younger Smith was lauded for his hitting ability before the 2011 draft, with Baseball America touting his batting stroke as one of the best in his draft class. Scouts praised his bat speed and his ability to keep his bat in the hitting zone. Smith Jr, who adopted a leg kick at the suggestion of his father, was also lauded for his hitting approach to all fields and being able to drive the ball into the gaps. The elder Smith believes his son will have more power and speed that he did in his career, which saw him bat .275 with the Cubs, Angels, Orioles and Braves.
Despite his struggles in short-season ball, Smith would thrive in his introduction to full-season action with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2013 after spending time in extended spring training. He told the Toronto Observer he was dealing with a wrist injury heading into spring training that year but he managed to hit .284/.365/.388 with seven home runs, 46 runs batted in and 25 stolen bases – 24 more than his rookie season. He had 11 multi-hit contests, including five three-hit games in August.
Smith started to tap into his power with the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2014 with a .453 slugging percentage while matching his Lansing batting average of .284 and nearly the same OBP at .363. On Opening Day, he went 4-for-5 in a 7-0 win over Clearwater April 3. Three days later, he belted two homers against a rehabbing Cole Hamels in Clearwater with his father in attendance. That performance was among five multi-hit games in a row. He strung together a 15 game on-base streak that included nine in a row with at least one hit spanning late June and early July. Smith then compiled a 10-game hit streak later in July but missed some time due to injury in late July and early August. He went deep 12 times and had 48 extra-base hits and 15 stolen bases to help him earn mid-season and post-season Florida State League All-Star berths. Smith also won the R. Howard Webster Award as Dunedin’s most valuable player. He finished up the year in the Arizona Fall League by hitting .262 in 11 games. He also played second base with the Mesa Solar Sox for a couple of games and did not commit an error but Smith has been in the outfield grass ever since.
The 2015 season saw Smith take a step back with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. He suffered a power outage by homering just seven times and slugging .376 while hitting .265 and reaching base at a .335 clip. His running game stalled too by swiping just four bases in seven attempts. The left-handed hitter started off the year like gangbusters in April by reeling off a 16-game hitting streak and extending his on-base streak to 25 games into early May. He would struggle in June and July by batting .231 and .242 respectively before improving to .264 in August and .290 in September. Smith was left exposed for the Rule 5 draft but nobody decided to take a chance on him.
Smith repeated Double-A again in 2016 and he set career highs in home runs with 15 and RBI with 74. His matched last year’s batting average of .265 with just a slight dip in OBP at .332. After batting .321 in April of 2015, he was ice cold in April of 2016 with a .145 BA and a .391 OPS. He was 0-for-15 during one stretch that left his batting average below .100.
Smith’s bat came back to life in May as hit .333 with a .935 OPS while clubbing four dingers. Two of those bombs came May 22nd in a home victory against the Hartford Yard Goats to help him earn Eastern League Player of the Week honours. He tailed off to a .257 batting average in June and a .229 July before bouncing back with a .279 August and a .444 September. Smith also managed 12 stolen bases but was caught seven times. One positive at least for Smith was that he showed no discernible lefty/right (.258/.268 batting average) or home/away (.268/.263 BA) splits.
MLB.com rated Smith as the Blue Jays #26 prospect in 2016, saying “he has a knack for hitting, albeit with below-average power. He stands out most for his patient approach and consistent on-base skills, while his quick swing and knowledge of the strike zone make him a difficult out.” He was assigned a 50 grade as a runner and fielder, a 45 grade for hitting and throwing and 40 for his power.
With two full seasons at Double-A, it would stand to reason that the Blue Jays will send Smith to Triple-A Buffalo to begin the 2017 campaign. Having spent most of last season in left field, the 24 year-old could really use a strong start with the Herd and throw his hat into the ring of Toronto’s crowded seven-spot situation.