Pavin Smith was considered one of the better players available in the 2017 draft, leading to the Diamondbacks selecting him seventh overall. In fact Baseball America had him ranked as the best college hitter, with the best strike-zone discipline as well.
However his production in his first full season of professional baseball didn’t live up to that type of billing, as he struggled at High-A:
.255 (112-439), 11 HR, 54 RBI, 63 R, 3 SB
What’s interesting is that he continued to show a good approach, with the second best SwStr% for those who qualified in the California League with a 6.7% SwStr%. That led to him striking out (65) nearly as much as he walked (57 BB), so it’s easy to envision a solid-to-strong average.
The real issue stems from his power, or lack thereof. He did start to show signs as the season wore on, despite only hitting 4 HR in the second half, as there was an uptick in doubles (16 in the second half) and a better SLG (.379 to .404). It’s a small positive sign, but it’s also not one that we want to completely ignore.
We’ve seen players take a strong approach and develop the power as they’ve advanced. Just look at Josh Bell recently (even though he took a step backwards in ’18). Back in ’14 Bell “slugged” 9 HR over 331 AB at High-A, and that lack of power continued until he reached the Majors. We then saw how it can come all together (26 HR, 18.9% strikeout rate, 10.6% walk rate) in 2017.
The question is if Smith will be able to take a similar path and tap into the raw power as he develops. As MLB.com noted last year:
While he didn’t homer until the end of the postseason, most feel it will come when he learns to turn on balls in good counts.
Learning to do that is going to be paramount and determine whether we are looking at the next Bell-type ascent or if he’s destined to be a James Loney-esque first baseman. There’s no guarantee, but it’s worth gambling that he can take the same path as the former. With the price/expectations potentially never getting lower, now is the perfect time to try and buy low and see if he can flourish.
Sources – MLB.com, MILB.com, Baseball America, Fangraphs
Make sure to check out all of our 2019 Top 10 Prospect Lists: