2023 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Player Spotlight: Will Smith and his Value at his Current ADP
Colby Conway breaks down Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith and his fantasy baseball expectations for the 2023 MLB season.
Los Angeles Dodgers and Team USA catcher Will Smith is a top five fantasy baseball catcher in 2023, and there’s no denying that. His lack of stolen bases likely keeps him out of the top two overall among backstops, but he’s at worst a top five player at the position. He had a big hit in Team USA’s win over Cuba in the World Baseball Classic yesterday, and his Statcast page is a thing of beauty. After back-to-back seasons of 24+ home runs, just how good can Smith be in his age-28 season here in 2023? It’s hard to call him a fantasy baseball breakout candidate at this point, but he could be in line for his first year with 25+ homers and 90+ RBI, and you should be considering drafting him once J.T. Realmuto and Daulton Varsho have been selected in your league’s fantasy baseball draft.
Simply put, Smith is a professional hitter, and there’s no way around it. He has a double-digit barrel rate in each of the last three seasons, and a .472 xSLG and .473 xSLG over the last two years confirms that his power floor is quite elevated, especially given the nature of the position. Smith hits a hearty number of fly balls, and his home park is very, very good for right-handed power bats. You may have seen a decrease in his strikeout rate last year compared to previous years, which was quite impressive. Despite leaving the zone more than ever before, albeit only a modest 25.4 percent, his SwStr% dropped to just 7.1 percent, and his zone contact and contact rates jumped up multiple percentage points. For a frame of reference, here are other players with a SwStr% around 7.1 percent:
- Mookie Betts (6.7%)
- Jose Altuve (6.8%)
- Jeff McNeil (7.5%)
Ultimately, it’s best of both worlds with Smith, in that quality of contact is certainly there, but so is the quantity. However, while his strikeout rate was reduced overall, it wasn’t all lollipops and gumdrops for Smith in 2022. In the second half of the season, his batting average dropped, his strikeouts jumped, and his walks decreased. In the second half of the year, pitchers committed to staying out of the zone with Smith, and he gave in.
I’m not saying this to scare you off Smith by any means, but it is worth noting that they seem to have found a little success against Smith with breaking pitches out of the zone. However, the good news for fantasy managers is even if we take his numbers from the second half of the season and double them, we get to 20 home runs, 80 RBI and a .246 average from Smith over 120 games. Despite the “struggles” in the second half, he’s still a plus fantasy bat.
We also received a nice nugget of news that should help Smith’s overall fantasy production. Manager Dave Roberts more or less confirmed that the plan to begin the year is for Smith to hit third! This will put the likes of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman ahead of him, with Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez behind him. Last year, Smith spent the majority of his time hitting fourth, so the slide up to the No. 3 spot should throw a few extra at-bats his way. However, in regards to the lineup, I do have another question.
Last year, Smith saw 91 at-bats as the team’s designated hitter. The team brought in J.D. Martinez and he’s expected to be the primary DH. Roberts hasn’t ruled out Martinez playing the outfield, but he hasn’t played in the outfield in more than 40 games since 2018, including just 45 games over the last three seasons! If Martinez stays healthy, how many at-bats at DH can we reasonably expect for Smith? Roberts already said that Smith won’t DH as much as he did in 2022, but they don’t want him to see fewer at-bats. He most certainly cannot catch every day, so this is something to monitor throughout the season. Am I knocking Smith down because of this? No, not necessarily, but it is something that I want to keep an eye on.
At the end of the day, even if opposing pitchers continue to attack Smith out of the zone with breaking stuff, Smith will adjust and be just fine. He’s a talented hitter that has one of the highest offensive floors at the position. Over the last two seasons, Smith ranks second in home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage amongst catchers with at least 500 plate appearances. He’s going to once again hit in the heart of the order for a good Los Angeles lineup, and he is poised for another season of 20+ home runs with 80+ RBI and a .255 batting average. I would consider that his floor, but his ceiling looks more like 30 home runs with 90-100 RBI. At the earliest, he should be the third catcher drafted, and at the absolute latest, the fifth catcher off the board.
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