The Colorado Rockies outfield is in a state of transition. The do-everything, “Swiss Army Knife” of fly catchers, Matt Holliday, now resides in Oakland. The future belongs to precocious tool sheds Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, but both appear ticketed for AAA Colorado Springs for additional seasoning. As such, a pair of unheralded home-grown players appear likely to receive everyday playing time for the Rox: Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith.
While neither comes with the championship-caliber upside of a Holliday nor the scouting pedigree of a Fowler, Spilborghs and Smith could provide league-average or better production for a minimal investment. Let’s examine Colorado’s probable left fielder, Smith.
Smith came to the University of Mississippi as a well-regarded quarterback prospect. However, he got stuck behind some fellow named Eli Manning and never took a snap for the Rebels. While Smith’s gridiron dreams were grounded, he excelled on the diamond and was selected by the Rockies in the second round of the 2004 amateur draft.
While Spilborghs struggled initially in the minors, Smith made a mockery of rookie ball (as he should have given his experience) with an OPS in excess of 1.000. Sent to a more age-appropriate level to begin the ’05 season, Smith held his own in the Cal League with a .300/.353/.458 line. Baseball America was just mildly impressed (ranking Smith 15 in the Rockies system), as college players showing doubles power in a hitter’s paradise don’t typically elicit rave reviews.
Promoted to AA Tulsa in ’06, Smith stepped up his game a bit with a .294/.361/.483 showing, displaying more power (.189 ISO) and making plenty of contact (14.1 K%). BA again rated Smith toward the middle of Colorado’s top 30 farm products, ranking him 16th while noting that AAA Colorado Springs would serve as “the perfect venue to turn some of his doubles into home runs.”
Deployed to AAA to begin the 2007 campaign, Smith smacked 17 taters while batting .317/.381/.528. He topped the .200 ISO mark (.211), no doubt aided by the nine percent increase in runs and doubles produced by Colorado Springs. 2008 brought more of the same at the level in the power department (.202 ISO), but Smith more than doubled his walk rate, from 8% in 2007 to 15.6% in ’08. Summoned to the big leagues in late May, the 6-3, 215 pounder produced a .349 wOBA in 123 PA (.259/.350/.435), again drawing his fair share of free passes (12.2%).
Smith appears to be the front-runner to replace Holliday in left field, though it’s possible that he ends up in more of a platoon situation. The 26 year-old has devoured right-handed pitching to the tune of .318/.381/.532 in the minors, but port siders have limited him to some walks and singles (.276/.360/.385). Matt Murton, acquired in the Holliday deal, could become Smith’s caddy. Chicago’s erstwhile redheaded step child has a career .311/.382/.484 line versus southpaws.
For 2009, CHONE projects a .362 wOBA for Smith, with a .288/.361/.461 line. PECOTA spat out a .273/.347/.450 prognostication for the former Rebel. Like Spilborghs, Smith is a decent hitter who has two very important things going for him: opportunity and the chance to take his hacks in the hitting mecca that is Coors. There’s some risk that he ends up as only the long half of a platoon, but Smith could give you pretty good output while probably not even requiring a draft pick.