The Chicago White Sox have promoted catching prospect Kevan Smith to the major league roster, replacing the injured Alex Avila, who is down with a hamstring injury. Smith is little-known outside of White Sox circles and although he is an older rookie at age 27, he is rather interesting given his background. Here are the basics.
From the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book:
Kevan Smith, C, Chicago White Sox
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-4 WT: 240 DOB: June 28, 1988
2012: Grade C+; 2013: Grade C+; 2014: Grade C
Do NOT dismiss this guy because of his age: Smith is not the typical 26-year-old non-prospect tearing up Double-A. Smith was a quarterback at the University of Pittsburgh and didn’t start playing baseball full time until 2011. He had a lot to learn but he’s learned it, emerging as a decent prospect on both sides of the ball. He is still learning to turn his strength into power, but his good sense of the strike zone and ability to make contact will help. His glove was raw at first but his progress as a defender has been impressive. He threw out 33% of base thieves last year and has steadily lowered his passed ball and error rates. He won’t win any awards but is now a competent backstop. I don’t think Smith will be a regular, but he should have a substantial career as a reserve catcher who can provide some offense. Grade C+.
I should have taken my own advice there: Smith didn't make the 2016 edition of the book, but now he's in the majors after hitting .345/.394/.586 in his first eight games in Triple-A.
Over his minor league career Smith is a .290/.367/.454 hitter. As noted he is an older prospect, but that is due more to his football background than any failure in performance on his part. While not a walk machine, he has a fairly good eye and has generally kept his strikeouts under control. Smith is strong but his swing is tailored more for line drives than homers, though there is some all-field pop available.
Here's Smith knocking an opposite-field home run a couple of weeks ago.
Although that particular homer was wind-aided, Smith's spray charts confirm his all-fields strength: 18 of the 30 home runs he has hit in 2013-2016 were sent over the center (six) or right field (12) fences. Twelve were pulled to left.
The former quarterback draws mixed defensive reviews. On the positive side, he has steadily lowered his error and passed ball rates as he's moved up the ladder, eliminating concerns that he would have to switch positions. He holds a 29% stealer-kill ratio in his career. This was a weak 19% in 2015 (which hurt his reputation, dropping from 33% in 2014) but he's caught 5 of 11 this year.
As SouthSideLarry notes at SouthSideSox this morning, Smith's Baseball Prospectus minor league catcher defense numbers rate Smith as a "significantly below-average" pitch framer and a mediocre blocker. I can't speak to the pitch-framing but in my in-person views Smith has seemed like a competent receiver, blocking what he's supposed to block while demonstrating the requisite field generalship and leadership skills. That's intangible stuff, of course, so your mileage may vary.
My general view is that while Smith isn't deadly against runners and won't cut a run off your team ERA with his pitch-framing, his defense is competent overall. He has a chance to provide some offense, too, and while he's not a pennant winner, he can be a viable reserve and a great guy to have in Triple-A waiting for a roster hole.