When Kevin Kiermaier went down with a hip injury, it was only reasonable to think that the Tampa Bay Rays would have a huge void to fill at the plate, and especially in the field. Kiermaier was batting a respectable .258. We all know what he is capable of on defense, coming off back-to-back Gold Glove awards.
However, Mallex Smith has filled in admirably. Better yet, one could even argue that Smith is an upgrade from Kiermaier, at least from an offensive standpoint.
What has been most impressive, though, is how Smith has performed out of the leadoff spot. In seven games as a leadoff hitter, he is batting .379 with five steals in just 29 at bats.
A true leadoff hitter is something the Rays have needed all season. While I have no room to complain about what Corey Dickerson has done this season in 41 games as the leadoff man, we all know he does not fit the traditional niche.
On the contrary, Smith is almost the cookie cutter representation of what to expect from your leadoff man. He knows how to get on base, and when he does, he is always looking to swipe a bag.
But what happens when Kevin Kiermaier returns, and Mallex Smith is still thriving? I could potentially foresee Kiermaier replacing Colby Rasmus’ spot in the batting order, and Dickerson would shift back to the designated hitter role on a nightly basis, and remain at the second spot in the order.
Smith is also an incredibly stout outfielder. In his last 598.1 innings in the major leagues, he has only committed three errors, good for a fielding percentage of .981.
Outside of individual performance, Mallex Smith has been the offensive spark plug since he entered the starting line-up. Since then, the Rays have hit .297, the fifth highest in the majors, day and night from their season mark of .253.
Mallex Smith almost reminds me of what I expected out of Desmond Jennings, with just a little less power. If, Smith can continue to find his way on base, then there is no reason to move him from the leadoff spot. He could become a staple of this Rays squad for the rest of the season.