MadFriars’ Minor League Player of the Year: Mallex Smith
Although Jake Bauers and Trea Turner put together some better months in Low-A Fort Wayne and Hunter Renfroe was more dominant for the first half in High-A Lake Elsinore, no one put together a better season from the beginning of April until the end of the minor league season in the first weeks of September than Mallex Smith.
"Thank you so much, I feel so blessed," said Smith from the Arizona Fall League upon being notified that he took the title.
"I just came into this season with the only goal to really give it my best and it’s nice to be recognized."
This season between the TinCaps and the Storm, Smith hit .310/.403/.432 and led all of professional baseball, both the majors and the minors, in stolen bases with 88 in 114 attempts.
In Lake Elsinore he particularly shined with a .327 batting average and 22 extra-base hits in 55 games to go along with 40 stolen bases. He was, and is, the quintessential lead-off hitter.
"He can bunt for a base hit, put the ball in play and utilize his speed, drive the ball to the gaps and even put a charge into the occasional pitch," said Tyler Zickel, one of the Storm broadcasters.
"His ability at the plate makes him that much more dangerous of a hitter."
The five-foot-nine, 185 lbs. left-handed hitting Smith is a plus runner with gap power. He had 41 extra-base hits this year, and has the ability and arm strength to play all three outfield positions, but primarily was in center field this season.
Smith was drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 draft by the San Diego Padres after passing up an offer from the Milwaukee Brewers who drafted him the year before in the 13th round to attend Santa Fe Community College in Tallahassee, Florida.
"The package wasn’t really what I was looking for financially," Smith said on his reasons to delay his pro career. "So I wanted to go to JC to get better and prove that I was worth what I believed I was."
"Going to Santa Fe was also good for me because I was able to play in a lot more games than I had in high school."
After a solid debut in the Arizona League and short-season Eugene, Smith played in Fort Wayne last year and stole 64 bases while posting a .367 on-base percentage but wasn’t able to crack the starting outfield in Lake Elsinore coming out of spring.
But going back to the Summit City didn’t really affect Mallex.
"I just trusted my ability and that God had a plan for me. I believe in my abilities and just took it as another opportunity to show people what I could do."
In an end of the season interview with MadFriars, TinCaps’ announcer Mike Maahs noted that Mallex came out much more focused than the year before and on a young team provided valuable leadership in addition to being one of the best players in the league.
A big separator for Smith compared to other players is that the speedy center fielder has a very good idea of what he does and does not want to do on the field.
"To me the big thing is that my game is about getting on base; by a hit, walk or getting hit by a pitch. Once I am on then I really feel that I can maximize what I do well, take the extra base and score."
There is room for improvement with Smith, as Padres’ former Director of Development Randy Smith noted.
"Mallex (it sounds like Alex) needs to continue improving defensively by taking better routes to the ball in center field and further refine his game by keeping the ball on the ground to take advantage of his speed, but, I liked what I saw this year."
But to Mallex, who is the embodiment of a "baseball rat" in that he never has enough games to play, his best accomplishment was showing up every day.
"I am proud of most that I played over 120 games and I would have liked to played in some more," said Smith on his 2014 campaign.
Mallex, 21, lives his life as he plays baseball; going forward. If you are looking for him to "reflect" on what leading all of professional baseball in stolen bases has meant to him, keep going.
"I’m still playing baseball in the Arizona Fall League and I have a game coming up after we finish talking," laughed Smith a week ago. "I have quite a few things that I need to get better at and will get better at before next season."
"Call me back in about 15 years, and maybe even a few more just to be on the safe side, and we will do some reflecting then."
Tuesday we select the MadFriars’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year
You can follow all of the action in the Padres’ minor league system @madfriars on Twitter.