Coming into the 2021 season there was hype around a lot of top prospects including Dylan Carlson, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Ian Anderson, just to name a few. One of the names that may not have been mentioned as a top pick for the NL rookie of the year – a former first-round pick and now Arizona Diamondback – is Pavin Smith. Smith was picked 7th overall by the Diamondbacks out of Virginia back in the 2017 draft, regarded by many as one of the best college hitters in the class. Over three seasons in the Diamondbacks system, Smith didn’t impress right away and, by the 2020 season, he found himself falling down prospect ranking boards down to 27th in Arizona’s system.
Smith didn’t force the Diamondbacks’ hand into calling him up, but he showed enough appeal with his impressive plate discipline that saw him walk 143 times while only striking out 150 times in his minor league tenure. In a super small 279 career plate appearances sample, Smith has walked at a 7.5% clip while carrying a sub 20% strikeout rate (16.1%) in the big leagues. Smith is showing a lot of positives on a struggling Diamondbacks team that sits nowhere close to playoff contention and will certainly be sellers at the deadline.
Part Of The Future In Arizona
The only real eyesore when looking at Smith as a prospect was his age. Already 25, Smith looks like he could be one of the late breakouts that have been nothing new over the past few seasons. In his first cup of coffee in 2020, Smith only took part in 12 games for the team and had a very small 44 plate appearance sample size.
Through 269 plate appearances in 2021, Smith carries a .274/.327/.415 slash line with a 103wRC+. Smith isn’t a huge power hitter, but is providing an impressive 47.1% hard-hit rate to go with a .299 expected batting average. When Smith made his 2020 debut, he had a BB/K no lower than 0.88 in the minor leagues and, in his short major league career, has a 0.47 BB/K ratio. Despite the slight “lack” of walks, Smith has a 23.2% chase rate well below the league average of 28.4%.
Over a larger sample size compared to 2020, the first baseman has managed to sustain the impressive bat-to-ball skills that have lead to a 16.4% whiff rate. Smith thus far has slugged .506 against four-seam fastballs and carries a microscopic 6.2% whiff rate while carrying a hard-hit rate of 59% against the pitch. The lack of strikeouts and whiffs is what makes the future outcome of Smith interesting.
Smith has a contact percentage of 84.6 and an even more stellar 93.6% contact rate on pitches in the zone. When Smith has made contact in 2021, he has a 45.6% hard-hit rate with a 6.8% barrel rate. The hard-hit rate is intriguing, but 50% of batted balls by Smith are grounders, which was a problem in 2020 as well (45.6%).
As I type this on the morning of Monday, June 21st, Smith is underperforming his .348 xwOBA by twenty-five points. With an xBA of .289 and xSLG of .468, there’s plenty of room for optimism for the bat to improve even with his current skillset. If Smith can manage to increase his average launch angle on hard-hit balls and manage to lay off some more pitches outside of the zone, we could see something along the lines of an Eric Hosmer-type bat that excels in making contact, limiting strikeouts, and plays average to above-average defense at first base, but Smith also carries the ability to play the outfield.