Even though it is always dangerous to put a ton of stock into spring training stats, there are still encouraging signs to look for. As we discussed yesterday in our piece about three Pittsburgh Pirates players impressing this spring, good timing from hitters, player health, and a pitcher whose stuff looks good, are always positives and the kind of thing that can impress teams.
There have been plenty of players generating buzz for the Pirates spring, but there is one outfield prospect who has looked impressive but has been largely overlooked. That outfielder is Canaan Smith-Njigba.
Smith-Njigba was one of seemingly countless Pirate players to make their MLB debut last season. He had just 7 plate appearances in the majors, but drew a walk, hit a double, and looked comfortable at the plate. Unfortunately, a wrist injury would end his season after just those 7 PAs.
Acquired from the New York Yankees in the Jameson Taillon trade, Smith-Njigba's best trait as a hitter has always been his patience at the plate. Throughout his professional career the left-handed hitting Smith-Njigba has been known as a hitter who will consistently put together strong at-bats while getting on base at a high clip.
So far this spring, that is exactly how Smith-Njigba has looked at the plate.
Looking to put himself in a position to carve out a role with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, Smith-Njigba has put together one strong at-bat after another this spring. After smoking a home run, his 1st of the spring, with a 108.8 MPH exit velocity in Tuesday's 2-2 tie with the Minnesota Twins, Smith-Njigba now owns an .852 OPS this spring. This OPS includes a .286/.423/.429 slash line, four walks, and seven strikeouts in 25 PAs.
Again, putting a lot of stock in spring training stats is dangerous. That is not what we are doing with Smith-Njigba, although his stats have been imrpessive. What is worth talking about with Smith-Njigba is how he has looked at the plate.
This spring Smith-Njigba has looked confident at the plate. He's been patient, shown a good eye, and consistently made good contact. Even some of the outs that Smith-Njigba has made have come when he's hit the ball hard and driven it. Adding to the impressiveness of his home run on Tuesday is that it was hit to the opposite field.
The odds of Smith-Njigba starting the season in the majors are very low. He alsomost assuredly tickted for Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season. That said, if Smith-Njigba can carry the at-bats he has had this spring into the regular season, him getting another opportunity in the majors will be a question of when not if this season.