When Austin Barnes suffered a strained groin in late May that required a stint on the 10-day injured, the Los Angeles Dodgers got their first look at what appeared to be their future. Will Smith looked the part of an experienced catcher in his MLB debut and games after that.
He nonetheless was returned back to Triple-A Oklahoma City once Barnes was activated. Smith impressed in another stint with the Dodgers, and has overtaken the starting job behind the plate.
All the while Smith has continued with his steady play and late-game heroics. “He keeps coming up with big hits. It’s just one of those things, right now he’s got clarity in the box,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of his rookie catcher.
“Can’t say enough about his process, his work, and obviously the performance.”
Clayton Kershaw heaped similar praise on Smith, saying, “It’s amazing. It seems like every situation that’s been a huge situation he’s come up big for us. I don’t know what you can say. It’s just pretty amazing.
“What he’s done for us, it seems like bit hit after big hit. It’s been fun to watch. Obviously we’ve need it, too, because every hit has put us in the lead at some point. It’s been awesome.”
Smith went into the 2019 season ranked among the top prospects in the Dodgers organization. He was heralded as a strong defensive catcher who still had needed maturation with the bat. Though if Smith’s start to his career is any indication, offensive production won’t be an issue.
He became the first player in MLB history during the Modern Era to have three of his first five home runs be go-ahead and hit in the ninth inning. Smith followed that by hitting a grand slam and breaking Cody Bellinger’s franchise record for most RBI through 14 games.
Although the prolific rate at which Smith is hitting could not have been predicted, nor necessarily expected, it’s not a shock to him. “I haven’t really surprised myself,” Smith said.
“You never know what you’re going to do when you get called up but I think every guy down in Triple-A and Minor Leagues believes in himself and that he can compete at this level. I did, and I’m showing it.
“Everyone wants to be in that situation. I’ve been in that quite a bit lately and I’ve made the most of it. I’ve got confidence in that situation. I guess it’s encouraging to know you can do it and you’ve been there before.”
Smith’s calm presence prompted Roberts to make a comparison that even he couldn’t through explaining without a chuckle… Yasiel Puig when he made his debut in 2013.