Toronto Blue Jays next-level depth: Dwight Smith Jr.

Feb 23, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitchers field ground balls during practice at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitchers field ground balls during practice at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

Blue Jays’ OF prospect Dwight Smith Jr. repeated a level at double-A New Hampshire in 2016

Getting lost in the prospect shuffle isn’t a difficult thing to do, especially once a player creeps past 22 years old and repeats a level. The assembly line continues to churn out players that are newer, younger, shinier.

That’s what happened to Dwight Smith Jr. — the Blue Jays’ 1st round pick (53rd overall) in the 2011 supplemental round — last season in double-A.

Smith, who turned 24 in late October, rode a strong 2014 in high-A to his debut with New Hampshire in 2015, but an overall average season with a .711 OPS earned him a second lap in 2016 (not uncommon throughout the system following the arrival of a new management regime). His repeat year produced better results, including a .765 OPS and career-high 15 home runs, but Smith was an even stronger player than those numbers show after shaking off the early-season rust.

Over the first 20 games of the season, Smith hit .147 with little power, and despite being fortunate enough to find 15 RBI in those games, he struck out 15 times. This is a small and rather arbitrary sample size, of course, but it’s chosen with a purpose. After a quiet 2015, those first 20 games made it rather easy for one to turn their eyes away from Smith and assume that more of the same was coming.

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Something clicked, though. Beginning with an early May series against the Portland Sea Dogs, Smith posted a line of .288 / .353 / .480 (.833 OPS) the rest of the way. This included all 15 of his home runs, plus 21 doubles and five triples, over a period of 106 games.

Smith played the majority of the season in left field with some time also spent in right as the lightning-fast Roemon Fields patrolled centre for New Hampshire. Back in the 2014 Arizona Fall League, Smith saw a few innings at second base and there was some thought given to diversifying his defensive versatility, but that never did progress.

At this point, it seems that Smith is a corner-outfielder going forward and the 2016 season gives reason to believe that his power will support that in some way. His 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame does not have 35 home runs in it, but if he could maintain something close to that .480 slugging percentage from his strong 2016 run and continue to stretch hits into extra bases with his above-average speed, the tools are there to receive a look at triple-A Buffalo.

The word that comes to mind with Smith from a prospect standpoint is “baseline”. While he may not have that one standout tool to steal 50 bases or win multiple Gold Gloves, Smith does have a high floor across the board and has consistently shown the ability to put together professional at-bats (while avoiding empty ones).

Think of him as someone in the Darrell Ceciliani category for now, perhaps, with a touch of prospect shine still remaining. He could very well join Ceciliani in the Bufflo outfield this year if the organization pushes Smith up a level, though the upper-minors outfield could quickly become crowded.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Anthony Alford, and Harold Ramirez all have the potential to see time in the double-A outfield, at the very least, while Dalton Pompey could be headed back to Buffalo himself.

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Last season, the Blue Jays rolled the dice on the upside of Junior Lake and former No. 1 prospect Domonic Brown. Given the in-house talent they’ve grown or acquired, it seems that those types of moves may not be as necessary entering the spring of 2017.

Smith is still several players (or a string of injuries and bad luck) away from any MLB consideration, but should the tail end of his 2016 season continue into 2017, he’ll quickly re-emerge as a viable piece of upper-minors value that many were too quick to ignore.