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Baseball

StongSide Shoutout: Josh Smith

Two games. Two positions. Two unbelievable plays. Not bad for a rookie who has played less than a fifth of a full MLB season.
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Welcome to StrongSide Shoutout, where we pay homage to a player, coach, team, or other sports-adjacent person in town. Sometimes, it will be for something exciting. Other times, a dramatic moment. And still others, because something hilarious went down. It’s our way of giving a little extra shine to someone or something that merits it.

Today, that’s Josh Smith, who did some wild stuff on the diamond this weekend.

We’ll begin with the big question—and by “we,” I mean my pal and old colleague at The Athletic, Levi Weaver, who submits the following for consideration:

No, probably not. But perhaps the Rangers rookie should on the strength of two plays from the weekend, either of which could stake a reasonable claim to the best non-Eli White defensive moment of Texas’ season. That they came within 24 hours of each other, while playing two different positions, is a TikTok-sized curation of why our Jamey Newberg believes Smith could one day bloom into Texas’ answer to the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor, a multi-position dynamo who can fill in gaps wherever his manager needs on a given day.

There’s an offensive component to that role: over the past six seasons, Taylor is a .262/.341/.456 hitter with a 112 OPS+ (the MLB average is 100) and an All-Star appearance. Smith, meanwhile, is currently hitting .206 with a .268 slugging percentage in his first foray in the big leagues. Which leaves plenty of room for improvement, although Smith’s stellar plate discipline—11.1 percent walk rate compared to a 17.9 percent strikeout rate—and a long history of making contact in the minor leagues suggests there is more coming at the plate.

And as this weekend showed us, how much more will likely tip the scales between “very acceptable bench piece” and “position-shifting pain in the ass,” because Smith’s defense is already there.

Here’s Exhibit A, which took place in the bottom of the seventh of Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Oakland as Smith patrolled in left field:

This is the best kind of reckless, an athletic corner outfielder going full-on “see ball, get ball” in the vein of Rusty Greer.

(It was also, as MLB.com’s Kennedi Landry notes above, a poor baseball decision: Oakland’s Nick Allen scored the insurance run on a sacrifice fly versus being stranded on third had Smith just let the ball plop down foul. Does that diminish the objective value of this play? Yes. Would it also be missing the point to dwell on this during a long, hot, increasingly doomed Rangers season instead of how fun and great this catch was? Also, yes.)

Less than 24 hours later, Smith was stationed at third base, where he did the following in the bottom of the second.

The only debate here concerns which was more impressive, Smith’s dive or the snap on his throw after bobbling the pickup? There is no wrong answer, just as there isn’t for which of his two plays made you lurch out of your seat more (for me, it was the diving catch in left field).

Smith has been up for 30 games, which is far too soon to declare in bold-face type this is What He Does. But what’s beyond reproach is that he can do these things, both on the dirt and in the grass. That’s worth training a close eye on as Texas continues to build its core.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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