Originally published by DodgerBlue.com
Will Smith entered 2021 in his third season with the Los Angeles Dodgers but still looking to complete his first full year at the Major League level.
Smith made his debut around two months into the 2019 season but was shuffled between MLB and Triple-A Oklahoma City few times before taking over in late July. Then, the 2020 season was shortened due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Through the first two years, Smith showed elite-level talent and helped the team win the World Series, but he still had only played 91 games, so 2021 presented an opportunity to truly prove himself as one of the game’s best catchers.
In the first month of the season, Smith got off to a bit of a slow start. He only hit .226 with a .452 slugging percentage in April, but he still provided value with his .380 on-base percentage.
He started to find hits in May, hitting .308 for the month, but his power was still lagging behind what he showed in his short career. Smith still was a very good hitter, posting a wRC+ just above 120 each month, but he had yet to click on all cylinders at the same time.
In June and July, Smith started to show what his true talent level likely is. Over the two months, he hit .254/.354/.507 with nine home runs, a 132 wRC+ and 30 RBI.
Although Smith was the second-most valuable catcher in baseball with a 2.9 WAR and 128 wRC+ through July, he was snubbed from the National League roster for the All-Star Game.
Smith seemed to take it personally because in August, everything was clicking and he performed like one of the best hitters in baseball with a .282/.409/.634 line, 171 wRC+ and eight home runs.
Although he slumped in September, Smith had already proven he is one of baseball’s best catchers and one of the best young players at any position.
Among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances in 2021, Smith finished second in home runs (25), wRC+ (130), WAR (4.6), runs scored (71) and RBI (76); third in on-base (.365) and slugging (.495); and sixth in batting average (.258). He was also one of only three catchers who had 500 or more plate appearances.
In the postseason, Smith continued to perform at a rate similar to his season. He started all 12 of the Dodgers’ games and hit .250/.365/.500 with three home runs.
Smith’s 2021 highlight
Smith’s highlight of the season came against the San Francisco Giants on July 20 when he continued his trend of coming through in the biggest moments.
Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers were down to their final three outs when Giants reliever Tyler Rogers began the inning by walking Chris Taylor and Matt Beaty on a combined nine pitches.
As a pinch-hitter, Smith swung at the second pitch he saw and belted it over the left-field fence for a walk-off home run.
Entering 2022, Smith will once again be an important piece for the Dodgers.
He is already one of their five best players and with Buster Posey retiring, Smith should take over as the consensus best catcher in MLB by the end of the season.
Although his sample size is incredibly small early in his career, Smith has hit at a hall-of-fame level so far.
Among catchers all-time with at least 800 plate appearances, his .892 OPS ranks third behind Mike Piazza and Mickey Cochrane and ahead of Bill Dickey and Roy Campanella. His 135 wRC+ also ranks fourth, trailing the leader Piazza by five points.
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