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What do the Braves have in Mallex Smith?

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While the Braves pitching acquisitions are getting most of the headlines, Mallex Smith is quickly etching out an exciting path to the big leagues. What can the Braves expect from their outfield speedster?

Mallex Smith
Mallex Smith
Joel Auerbach, Getty Images

A lot has been made of the Atlanta Braves pitching haul they made in 2015. John Hart unloaded big name veterans to restock the Braves system with an arsenal of young arms. But what about the bats?

The Justin Upton deal was one of the few that featured some key offensive pieces for the Braves future. One of those pieces turned out to be their 2015 everyday second baseman Jace Peterson. The other was the exciting outfield prospect Mallex Smith.

Who is Mallex Smith? What kind of player can he be for this Braves team that has clearly spent 2015 building for the future?

Smith was immediately considered one of the Braves preseason top 20 prospects after being acquired from the Padres. The 22-year old outfielder came into the league behind 80-grade speed when he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the Friars. He has failed to disappoint in that category.

The 5 foot 9, 170 pound switch hitter never appeared above A level ball until joining the Braves. He made a name for himself as not only a speedster, but a highly successful one. Smith entered the 2015 season with 169 stolen bases (88 of which led all of MiLB last year) in 215 career chances, good for a 79-percent success rate.

Watch Smith swipe second despite a flawlessly executed pitch out:

(Video credit: MiLB.com)

While Smith is never going to be a power hitter — 13 career home runs over four seasons — he did show solid walk percentages and sound strikeout rates across A ball. He made his Double-A debut this season for the Mississippi Braves and over 57 games showed his new team he was everything advertised.

Smith slashed a .340/.418/.413 line in his Southern League debut. He posted his typical BB/K ratio walking 27 times and striking out 47. He also swiped 23 of 29 attempted stolen bases. The numbers the Braves hoped Smith could replicate were all on par with his career norms (an 11.3% walk ratio, a 17.1% strikeout ratio, a 79% stolen base rate and a 139 wRC+ in 240 PA). Smith may have benefited from a high BABIP (.412), but that is also enhanced by frequent bunt singles and infield hits.

(Video credit: MiLB.com)

The IL was a struggle for Smith upon being promoted. His walk percentage over his first 188 Triple-A plate appearances is at a frightening 4.8%, a number that hasn’t been below 11.3 % since his first 105 plate appearances at Rookie level ball in 2012. He has struck out 29 times, however, and his 15.4% rate is a career low and certainly promising. When he gets on base, he does what he does best, as he is 22-for-26 in stolen base attempts. Smith has also been a bit unlucky behind a career low .291 BABIP, but with a career worst .250/.292/.322 slash line, his speed is doing little good.

Or is it? Smith seems to have found that focus of late. He has hit safely in eight of his last ten games, with five multi-hit games sprinkled into that span. He is still striking out a bit too much but the improved contact shows he may be coming around. Smith seems to be getting back to doing what he does best: getting on base and causing havoc.

Here’s a taste of what he can do when he gets a ball into the gap:

(Video credit: MiLB.com)

His ticket to the big leagues is his speed. His defense is modest, but his speed has often bailed him out of mistimed jumps and mistaken routes. Still, he can make some sensational plays in the outfield.

(Video credit: MiLB.com)

The question is how can help the Braves? Smith has the tools to be a solid starting outfielder in the big leagues, and could benefit having someone like Michael Bourn back in the organization as a mentor. Hopefully he won't be a Vince Coleman-esque player, whose stolen bases became the only redeeming factor of a hitter who rarely approached a .290 batting average or .350 OBP.

That being said, you simply can’t teach the speed that Smith has and he will get his chance to use it at the big league level. He could certainly etch out a role in a starting lineup like a Billy Hamilton, or become a lethal force off the bench like Jarrod Dyson. Smith is an exciting prospect, and it will be interesting to see how he progresses towards September.