With the team’s final pick on day one of the draft, the Yankees chose a college infielder: Josh Smith. Let’s get to know 2019’s second round, 67th overall selection.
Smith, 22 in August, is decidedly not a physical specimen. At 5-10 and 175 pounds, he’s not going to stand out in a crowd, especially with all of the large humans the Yankees have in the organization. Drafted as a second baseman, Smith played third base and shortstop in college.
It’s safe to say that Baton Rouge, Louisiana is Smith’s home, through and through. Not only was he born there, but he played his high school and college ball within the city too. After attending Catholic High School, he matriculated at Louisiana State University.
Following a stellar prep career, the Detroit Tigers drafted Smith in the 38th round of the 2016 draft. Instead of going pro with the Tigers, Smith obviously chose to play for the LSU Tigers.
Smith played third base in his freshman year at LSU before moving over to shorstop the following season. He was mediocre, recording a .281/.407/.409 batting line, though he impressed in the Cape Cod league in the summer immediately afterward. Smith raked in the premiere collegiate summer league: .382/.478/.513 in 90 plate appearances.
His performance on the Cape was a good lead up to his sophomore year, but a stress reaction in his vertebrae resulted in him playing just six games. Finally healthy for his junior year, Smith re-established himself, hitting .346/.433/.533. He also launched nine homers and swiped 20 bags in 24 attempts.
Though he was LSU’s shortstop, it’s worth noting that the Yankees drafted him as a second baseman.
What do the scouts say?
The consensus is that nothing Smith does will blow your doors off. That said, he does a lot of things well. He makes contact, has a little bit of pop, is a slick fielder, and runs well. So not only does he lack a standout tool, but he’s not projectable given his stature.
Baseball America (subs. required) notes that his best tool is either his solid-average hit tool or his glovework at shortstop. The latter surprised me, given the fact that the Yankees drafted him as a second baseman. That would seem to indicate that the team isn’t quite as confident in him at short, though Yankees’ executive Damon Oppenheimer didn’t close the door on that (more from Oppenheimer in a moment).
According to Fangraphs, Smith’s top tool is his arm, which is a present and future 55 on the 20-80 scale. That said, the site seems to be in agreement with Baseball America’s assessment of his hitting ability. Where the two sites differ is his future power. Although both have his raw power as average, Baseball America finds him unlikely to unlock that in games given his size. Meanwhile, Fangraphs gives him a future 50 game power and notes that he has a “lift-friendly” swing.
So Smith’s ceiling doesn’t sound particularly high, although MLB Pipeline believes he has a high floor and should develop into a utility man at worst. That jibes well with Baseball America, as the publication also noted his high floor. Fangraphs mentioned that Smith is a max-effort player, which perhaps could be construed as a hard worker likely to make the most of what he’s got (and thus at least meet his floor).
Now, let’s find out what the Yankees think. Here’s what Oppenheimer said about Smith:
With Smith, you’ve got a left-handed hitter who was playing shortstop there at LSU. We see him as a middle infielder, whether it’s short, whether it’s second, whatever it takes. He’s a left-handed hitter with pop and he can really hit. We like the fact that he has the tools to stay in the middle of the field and be a good offensive contributor.
Signing bonus and what’s next
LSU’s season just ended on the 9th, so perhaps we will see Smith sign soon. The Yankees have already come to an agreement with all but two of their selections in the first ten rounds. Fourth rounder Jake Agnos is the other draftee outstanding. The assigned value for Smith’s spot is $976,700.
As Mike Axisa noted on his Patreon, the Yankees have nearly $1.6 million of wiggle room with their draft pool (without losing next year’s first rounder) to sign Smith and Agnos. That’s plenty of room given both of selections slot value, so there isn’t much reason to worry about Smith returning to college. Barring betting on himself to shoot up into the first round next year, it’s not like he’d have much leverage as a senior anyway.
We should see Smith in the New York-Penn League with Staten Island this summer. Next year, he’ll likely start in full-season ball with either Charleston or Tampa. Keep in mind that he missed most of his sophomore year of college, so he’s a little bit less experienced than most juniors. If he performs well, perhaps he’ll move through the ranks like a typical college draftee does.
There’s nothing in Smith’s various scouting reports that wows me, but that doesn’t make him a bad choice at 67. After familiarizing myself with him, I realized that he reminded me of the Yankees’ second rounder in 2016: Nick Solak. Also a second baseman (or middle infielder, if you prefer), Solak was dealt in the Brandon Drury trade prior to last season.
I will say that I am intrigued by Fangraphs’ note about his swing. All publications seem to agree that Smith has decent raw power, though Fangraphs is alone (among these three) in projecting average game power. For what it’s worth, Solak didn’t hit for much power in college but launched 19 dingers in Double-A last season. He has 10 already this year in Triple-A. It sounds like Smith has potential to do the same thing.
Even if Smith can’t convert his raw power into game power, it’s good to read that he isn’t an overly risky pick. The Yankees are betting on Anthony Volpe, so to ostensibly draft a future utility man in the second round is good. I know it’s not exciting, but there’s value in that.