Mallex Smith had done all he could do in Double-A. And after he got a base hit Tuesday night in the Southern League All-Star game, the Braves sent Smith up to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Smith was doing remarkably well in Mississippi. In 57 games, Smith hit .340 with a .418 on base percentage (both second best in the Southern League), two home runs, 22 RBI and 23 stolen bases (also tied for second best).
The first-half run by Smith continued his fine work dating back to last season, when he hit .310 between two A clubs (Low-A Fort Wayne and High-A Lake Elsinore) with a minor league best 88 stolen bases and a .403 on base percentage.
So since the start of the 2014 season, Smith has hit .319 with an on base percentage of .407.
Smith will be tested in the International League, but it will be a test the Braves will be closely watching. The Braves could use a leadoff hitter with speed, especially as the team has changed from a power-hitting team to one that relies more on ABC baseball – get them on, get them over and get them in.
Smith just turned 22 last month, so he’s still very young. But if he continues to hit the ball well, Smith might be proving that he is going to deserve a chance very soon to lead the Atlanta lineup.
The ironic part of Smith joining Gwinnett is he has pushed Jose Peraza back to the infield. Peraza had played 12 games in center field. He did not make an error. The Braves wanted to see if Peraza could play in the outfield, since Jace Peterson has established himself as the future second baseman in Atlanta.
If Smith shows he is half a season away from Atlanta, the Braves will all-of-a-sudden have depth with position players. Peraza, who is hitting .298 in Triple-A and has a .304 lifetime minor league average, could also be ready to play in Atlanta next season.
So then what? With Peraza, he can play second, shortstop and center field. Would the Braves think of trading Peraza? There was talk earlier this season the Yankees were interested in him. The Yankees also inquired about Andrelton Simmons last offseason. What if, knowing Peraza can play short, the Braves at least listened to offers for Simmons to make room for Peraza in the lineup?
Could the Braves, for instance, pair Peraza with a starting pitcher to fetch a power-hitting third baseman? That kind of package could create a significant trade.
Cameron Maybin is establishing himself as a legit member of the lineup with the best season of his career. With Smith and Peraza almost ready, would the Braves think about taking advantage of Maybin’s value and selling while his stock is at an all-time high? Or would the Braves be afraid of an outfield with Smith and Peraza, two rookies, in the same outfield in 2016?
If Maybin remains in center, Smith or Peraza could be in left and lead off, with Nick Markakis still in right field. But the Braves would not likely need both Smith and Peraza, making one of them perhaps available in a trade for a power hitter.
Again, while Smith had 88 stolen bases last season, Peraza had 60. So these are two speedsters who could really be crucial to the future of the Braves lineup. Will the Braves simply evaluate both players in Triple-A to determine which one hits best? Well, if Peraza continues to do well, he might increase his value, but it won’t necessarily push Smith out of the way.
Last Saturday Peter Gammons tweeted that a venerable MLB scout texted him and compared Smith to a young Kenny Lofton. That might be difficult for Peraza to top. But there is little doubt both of these players have significant value, which will give the Braves additional options moving forward.
We already know the depth the Braves are building in the pitching department, with five starting pitchers in Atlanta under the age of 25 and two more young pitchers in Gwinnett who are almost ready. But it’s good for them to have depth elsewhere, as well, that could lead to some significant decisions to help make the lineup more complete in 2016 and beyond.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mallex Smith promoted to Gwinnett
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