Pick by pick, it became clear that the Yankees had specifically targeted pitching in the 2017 draft. The lone exception in the first 11 rounds was Canaan Smith, an outfielder from Rockwall-Heath high school in Texas.
Smith had a commitment to the University of Arkansas and was coming off a senior season where he made national news for drawing 57 walks, the ninth highest total for a high school player in history. At one point it appeared he may even challenge the national record. The high walk total stemmed from a combination of opponents pitching around Smith’s talented bat, and his focused eye at the plate. The Yankees added a talented young outfielder who is currently rewarding them with a great season for the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs.
After being drafted, Smith reported to the Yankees Gulf Coast League affiliate and immediately found success. His plate discipline lived up to the hype as he registered a .430 on-base percentage with more walks than strikeouts. Following this strong debut, Smith found himself on numerous top prospects list, and was reportedly asked for in trade talks over the winter.
Following up on his initial success proved difficult though, as Smith struggled from the get go with the Staten Island Yankees. Smith battled some injuries, and one report also stated that the Yankees were not happy with his conditioning when he had arrived to camp. He adjusted his approach and saw his strikeout rate rise to 30%, while his walk rate dropped to 11%. He finished the season with a .191/.281/.316 triple-slash with an 81 wRC+.
As Smith struggled, many other highly-touted outfield prospects shot through the system. It wasn’t clear where he would fit in the organization’s long-term plans. While considered an adequate defender at either corner outfield position, Smith’s tools (speed, arm and fielding ability) are considered average to slightly above average. His bat was going to have to carry him through the ranks.
Heading into 2019, many wondered what version of Smith would show up. The player who impressed in the months after being drafted? Or the player who struggled mightily as he stepped up to a more advanced level?
Entering the final full month of the South Atlantic League season, Smith is breaking out in a big way with Charleston, hitting .312/.412/.459 on the year, which is good for a 153 wRC+. Smith’s approach seems sound, as he is back to walking 14.5% of the time while lowering his strikeout rate to an acceptable 21%. He is also showing the ability to use the entire field by pulling the ball in 39% of his at-bats, while going the opposite way 40% of the time. In fact, 14 of his 23 doubles have gone to the opposite field.
While producing a great season, Smith has still yet to tap into the raw power that some scouts feel he posses. If over the next year Smith can begin to hit for more power, his profile will rise tremendously and he could easily become the best left-handed impact bat in the Yankees’ minor league system.
Smith turned 20 years old during the 2019 season, and he is on the cusp of becoming one of the team’s best prospects. He has shown the mental and physical tools needed to rebound from his struggles in 2018 with a big offensive season for the Class-A Charleston RiverDogs. His ability to control the strike zone and use the entire field gives Smith the opportunity to add to his already advanced approach and become a rare impact bat.