The Braves already got a good idea about the talent of newly acquired minor league center fielder Mallex Smith when he stole the rookie talent show in spring training with his rendition of the Temptations’ “My Girl.”
“Just trying to put the show in the show,” Smith said, this week from Pearl, Miss.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound speedster and potential Braves leadoff hitter of the future who was acquired in the Justin Upton trade has put his moves to work in Double-A Mississippi as well.
Entering Friday, Smith was tied for the Southern League lead in hitting with a .347 average and tied for second with 16 stolen bases. He’d hit safely in 22 of his past 23 games and was batting .363 (33-for-91) for the month of May. Smith stole a base in five consecutive games last week, two shy of his career-high.
But don’t be fooled by the talent, the speed and the numbers. They don’t mean Smith has a need for the flashy or dramatic. The 22-year-old from the Entitlement Generation actually likes to bunt.
When asked about how many times he’d like to bunt in a series or a week, Smith said: “If I can bunt every at-bat and get a hit I will. I don’t care how it comes, I’m just looking to get result, and if the bunt hits are the way I will be productive that day, then I’ll bunt four or five times if I have to.”
He’s proficient at it, using drag bunts to take advantage of his first step out of the batter’s box as a left-handed hitter. He doesn’t mind bunting when teams are playing in, and he doesn’t mind working at it.
Smith isn’t afraid to go against the grain. He grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., a Florida Gators fan. He doesn’t mind doing the dirty work either. He played safety in football for Rickards High. He cared more about tackling than interceptions and had 19 tackles in a game his senior year.
“I was big on hitting people,” said Smith, whose older brother, Michael, started at tailback for Arkansas. “I knew it was going to be my last year playing football, so I just wanted to run into as many people as possible.”
His high school coach asked him to give up offense his senior year so he could make calls and lead the defense. That and Rickards going 2-7 might have hurt his football recruiting chances. The Brewers drafted him in the 13th round out of high school, and after a year at Sante Fe Community College, the Padres nabbed Smith in the fifth round.
“Baseball chose me, and it came at the right time,” Smith said. “God has a purpose for everything. Baseball took its course and it’s brought me to a wonderful place now.”
Granted, Smith was shocked Dec. 19 when he was working out at his old high school and his agent called to tell him he’d been traded to the Braves — especially after he hit .310 in Single-A last year and led the minors with 88 stolen bases. But he soon warmed to the idea of playing for the team grew up watching on TV and where one of his idols — Deion Sanders — played.
“At first, I was a little indifferent,” Smith said. “I didn’t really know how to feel about it. First time being traded. My parents and my family did a great job making me feel good about it. You got traded because you were wanted, not because you weren’t wanted.”