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Yankees 2021 Prospect Preview: Josh Smith

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The left-handed shortstop turned heads playing for the Staten Island Yankees in 2019.

Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George, the new stadium Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

The Yankees selected shortstop Josh Smith with their second-round selection (67th overall) in the 2019 MLB Draft. While early signing negotiations failed to yield an agreement, the player eventually signed for his full-slot value of $967,700, becoming the final player to sign among the Yankees’ selections in the first ten rounds.

Smith raked in his professional debut with the Staten Island Yankees. He displayed an excellent ability to get on base, walking an incredible 25 times in 33 games. He also showed a surprising amount of pop given his slight stature (5’10”, 172 lbs), which — aided by his bat speed and lofted swing — confirms the belief that he could slug 15-20 home runs after adding mass to his frame.

2019 Stats (Louisiana State University): 300 PA, .346/.433/.533, 9 HR, 41 RBI, 20 SB

2019 Stats (Short-Season A Staten Island): 141 PA, .324/.450/.477, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 6 SB, 12.1 K%, 17.7 BB%, 177 wRC+

Prospect Rankings (Yankees System): 14 (MLB), 19 (FanGraphs)

ETA: 2022 (MLB), 2023 (FanGraphs)

Like many of the Yankees’ lower-level prospects, Smith missed out on a key developmental year with the cancellation of the minor league season in 2020. This was particularly disappointing for Smith, as his impressive performance with the Staten Island Yankees had some evaluators wondering whether he could jump multiple levels heading into the next season.

Smith’s bat-to-ball skills are by far the lefty’s greatest asset, something which propelled him to success in college and in the his cameo in the minors. He was the starting third baseman as a freshman for LSU’s College World Series runner-up team, and batted an impressive .281/.407/.409 as a 19-year-old that season. Following a stress fracture in his lumbar vertebra that wiped out most of his sophomore campaign, he returned with a vengeance his junior year. His .346/.433/.533 triple slash line and 20 stolen bases led the team in all four categories.

Another of Smith’s best tools is his disciplined eye at the plate. As I mentioned above, his 25 walks in 33 games is admirable, especially when you consider he drew eight more walks than strikeouts. Any time you are walking more than striking out, you know you’ve got lockdown control of the strike zone. His mature approach at the plate has drawn interest from many teams in prospective trade talks, and his stock will only rise the more he gains experience in the minors.

Smith’s speed also will help propel him through the minors. With the hiring of minor league base running coordinator Matt Talarico, it is clear the Yankees are prioritizing speed in the lower levels, and Smith fits this mold perfectly. His 20 steals against only four times caught stealing at LSU in 2019 is a solid base to build upon.

Finally, Smith offers positional versatility that the Yankees seem to covet in the Draft and International Signing Pool. While his primary position remains shortstop, he displayed the ability to man the hot corner in college while some scouts believe he is destined for an eventual move to the keystone. His soft hands, capable arm, and quick release mean he is equipped to make at least the routine plays around the infield.

Considering his bat-to-ball skills, mature plate discipline, and plus-speed, Josh Smith is poised to make a rapid ascent through the Yankees’ minor league system. If he can add some more muscle to his wiry frame, he could be one of the breakout candidates as one of the better all-around infielders in the Yankees organization. Should he make that step, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him threatening the majors sooner rather than later.