Mallex Smith admits he is the slowest runner in his family.
He also admits that if that’s the case, the Smiths have some pretty good genes.
Smith entered Friday night’s game at West Michigan four steals shy of the TinCaps’ single-season record of 65. Starting today, he has three-regular season games left to match or break the record.
It definitely comes from my family, said Smith, 20. Everybody in my family is fast.
Smith said he developed his ability to steal bases through trial and error.
He was drafted in the 13th round out of high school but chose to go to junior college in 2011 and signed with Santa Fe.
There, Smith stole 31 bases in 37 games, earned a name for himself as one of the fastest prospects in the 2012 crop and got picked by San Diego in the fifth round with the 165th overall selection.
Much of Smith’s upside as a prospect comes from his speed. Whenever he makes contact, the outfielder, who has also been a designated hitter, is a threat to reach base.
And then things get interesting.
TinCaps manager Jose Valentin likes having a weapon like Smith on the bases. He has used Smith as a pinch runner multiple times to put extra pressure on pitchers.
In the TinCaps 5-2 win Aug. 22 over South Bend, Smith came in to pinch run at first base with the game tied at 1. He stole second, forced an errant throw from the pitcher on a pickoff to second and became the first run in a three-run swing for Fort Wayne.
He’s just one of those guys that he puts a lot of pressure on the defense, especially on the pitcher, Valentin said. With him running on bases, it makes the hitters see better pitches to hit. You’re not going to see many breaking balls. You’re going to see more fastballs. And that’s what we saw.
Smith’s aggressiveness is as important as his speed and experience and advance scouting have made him more effective this season.
Everything depends on the pitcher, Smith said. Some pitchers I know I can get a bigger lead off of than others. Some pitchers I know are quicker than others, so I got to be smarter about when I go. Some guys, I know they’re slower to the plate, so I know I can be aggressive, but I don’t have to be as aggressive on the lead.
That instinct has put Smith close to making franchise history.
And it’s helped out his teammates, too.
Especially for a guy who may be struggling, Smith said. If I’m on base and I’m in scoring position, or I’m a threat to get into scoring position and the pitcher’s got his mind on me, he’s either going to throw him nothing good at all or he’s going to throw him something he can drive, put a good swing on.