Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: 2023 an Important Season for Canaan Smith-Njigba

Jun 14, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Canaan Smith-Njigba (28)
Jun 14, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Canaan Smith-Njigba (28) / Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates need outfield prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba to take a step forward with his power in 2023

One of the major trades the Pittsburgh Pirates made at the start of the rebuild was sending Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees for four prospects. One of those four was outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba. Since arriving to the Pirates, Smith-Njigba has shown the talent to be a productive player. But he needs to take a step forward this year.

Smith-Njigba’s 2022 was cut short because of a fractured wrist caused by an outfield collision in one of his first major league games. Before getting called to the big leagues, Smith-Njigba was batting .277/.387/.408. Smith-Njigba draws a ton of walks and had an impressive 15.1% walk rate last year. His 23.9% strikeout rate wasn’t anything to be too proud of, but overall, he was still a well above-average batter. Smith-Njigba had a .363 wOBA and 118 wRC+ through 218 plate appearances.

There’s no doubt Smith-Njigba has a high offensive ceiling. He’s consistently shown outstanding pitch recognition, drawing a ton of walks. This is his third minor league season in a row with a walk rate of 14% or greater. He also has a ton of raw power. Smith-Njigba averaged out with a 93.3 MPH exit velocity in his brief three-game stint in the big leagues. He’s consistently been regarded as a guy with 60+ grade raw power. He generates that kind of pop from his burly 6'0", 230-LBS frame.

But despite that kind of power, he’s never been too much of a power hitter. In 2021 at Altoona, he had an isolated slugging percentage of just .132 and six home runs in 266 plate appearances. Last year at Triple-A, he had just a .130 ISO and a single long ball. In both cases, he’s had a ground ball rate of over 65% and a flyball rate of 26% or lower. Smith-Njigba started to turn a corner last year at Triple-A with a .160 ISO through his final 154 plate appearances, so maybe he did make an adjustment. But he definitley has the kind of raw power to rip a .200+ ISO.

This is a similar issue fellow Pirates prospect, first baseman Malcom Nunez struggled with in prior years. Despite showing off the kind of raw power that could hit 30+ home runs a season, Nunez struggled to lift the ball. However, he made some adjustments to his swing and hit 23 home runs. Plus had a .195 ISO after getting traded to the Pirates last year. Pirates’ third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes also is in a similar funk to Smith-Njigba, but he has yet to overcome his launch angle deficit.

The Pirates need Smith-Njigba to take this step forward next year. Their outfield talent is barren, but he could be the LF/DH middle-of-the-order bat the team could rely on for years to come. Smith-Njigba walks a ton to the point where even if he batted .230, he’d have an OBP over .350. Strikeouts might not be his strong suit, but he keeps them under wraps. If he can get the ball in the air more often, he’d fit well in a line-up headlined by Oneil Cruz and Bryan Reynolds, among others.

Next. Pirates Sign Veteran Middle Infielder. dark