The Los Angeles Dodgers have enjoyed remarkable success this season with their bevy of call-ups from Triple-A Oklahoma City, arguably no one garnered more attention than will Smith did with his MLB debut.
The rookie catcher went 2-for-4 with a double in a loss to the New York Mets and continued to have encouraging showings at the plate into June. However, Smith nonetheless was optioned back to Oklahoma City once Austin Barnes was eligible to be reinstated from the 10-day injured list.
Smith returned 18 days later and clubbed a walk-off home run in his first game back. His stint with the Dodgers again was brief — lasting all of three days. He at last was back for good one month later, supplanting Barnes as the starting catcher.
Smith carried over his hot hitting but has fallen into a recent skid. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts explained it stemmed from his swing mechanics, which have been addressed, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com
“I don’t think it’s body fatigue,” said Roberts. “On the hitting side, there’s a mechanical thing the hitting guys have cleaned up. Even his last swing the other night was a good swing, and I believe in the coming at-bats, it will be better.”
Smith batted .318/.392/.818 with eight doubles, 12 home runs and 31 RBI in 28 games (24 starts) through Aug. 21. He became the first Dodgers player in franchise history to hit 10 home runs through 25 career games.
Smith additionally made history as only the second catcher in the MLB live-ball era to reach the threshold, joining New York Yankees All-Star Gary Sanchez, who accomplished the feat in 2016.
In June, Smith helped the Dodgers set an MLB record for the most walk-off home runs hit by rookies in a single season. Then last month, Smith broke Cody Bellinger’s franchise record for most RBI accumulated through 14 career games (19).
His .884 slugging percentage was additionally the highest for a National League player at the time since the San Francisco Giants’ Willie McCovey in 1959 (minimum 45 plate appearances).
Most recently, Smith surpassed Bellinger yet again to set another Dodgers record for most home runs (nine) and RBI (24) through a player’s first 23 games in franchise history.
However, he’s gone into a slide since the beginning of a series with the Yankees, when a career-best nine-game hitting streak was snapped.
A hitless effort on Aug. 23 has spiraled Smith into a downturn in which he’s batted just .125 with one home run, three RBI, three walks and 16 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances over the last 12 games (nine start).
Smith’s ability to right the ship over the final few weeks of the regular season could be paramount for the Dodgers as they head into October. Amid growing whispers Smith’s unfamiliarity with the pitching staff could be having an adverse effect, a return to his previous production at the plate in some regard would offset it.