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The Call-Up: Kevan Smith

Cue the Clerks jokes

Kevan Smith
Kevan Smith
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It was only a matter of when, not if, Alex Avila hit the disabled list. This unavoidable fact made existing on the 40-man roster as a catcher an even more enviable honor than usual. And today that pays off for Kevan Smith.

One thing to know about Smith is that he's 27. He's actually less than a year and a half younger than Avila. His advanced age for a sorta prospect is not really due to years bouncing around the minors - he was drafted in the 7th round in 2011 - but because he spent three seasons playing quarterback at Pitt before turning his attention to baseball in 2009.

I've never been particularly impressed by Smith. Outside of an average throwing arm, the rest of his defense skills are mediocre to poor. With Baseball Prospectus unveiling their minor league defensive numbers for catchers, the poor perception of his receiving skills received some statistical support. His framing was significantly below average and his blocking was slightly below average. His overall throwing rated a bit below average, as a quick transfer couldn't cover for the average arm strength and shaky accuracy. However, he has received praise for his makeup and for the amorphous "pitching staff handling" trait and there hasn't ever been anything I've seen to refute that.

To be fair, Smith has always had the reputation of an offense-first catcher. And, outside of his time in the Arizona Fall League and his 2015 season at AAA, the righty has lived up to that billing. He's hit for a good average, gotten on-base and hit for power. The very small sample size of his second tour of AAA this season has seen him hit very well in 33 PA - .345/.394/.586 - so he should be arriving with some confidence in his bat.

His best offensive attribute is his ability to make contact. An 18.3% strikeout rate last season was the highest he ever posted in any level and he's dragged that back down to 12.1% this season (yes, SSS caveat). His swing isn't particularly fluid, though, and I worry that major league pitching (velocity in particular) will be able to exploit that. Still, he's built himself enough of a contact cushion that a marked decrease could still make his offense passable, particularly if his second best attribute, a bit of power, can transfer to the majors.

If he is a major leaguer, he's almost certainly not anything more than a back-up - though he'll need to improve his defense to achieve that. Given his handedness (and Dioner Navarro's switchedness), and the paucity of left-handed starters the White Sox are likely to face, I wouldn't expect that he'll see more than the minimal action a back-up should see. One would've ordinarily expected that John Danks would be the one to break him in but Danks appears to be lining up against R.A. Dickey on Tuesday. A knuckleballer is a tough first assignment so his starting debut is likely to be Wednesday. Hopefully a blowout can get him a plate appearance or two before then.