(Photo courtesy of the Diamondbacks Twitter account, @DBacks)
At the beginning of the 2017 season, Diamondback fans were anxious to see if their young third baseman, Jake Lamb, could repeat his breakout 2016 campaign. The former Washington Husky star did not disappoint, as he bested his year-old career highs in hits, home runs, walks, and OPS. The 27-year-old Lamb developed into a legitimate power threat to be reckoned with, serving as a left-handed complement to Paul Goldschmidt in the Diamondbacks’ vaunted lineup. Lamb’s ability to hit the ball out of the yard consistently is a recent phenomenon, with 59 of his 69 career home runs coming in his last 300 games after hitting just 10 in his first 144. Aside from adding strength to his wide frame, it’s evident Lamb has committed to elevating the baseball and hitting for power, taking advantage of the thin Arizona air. Lamb’s adjusted approach and swing have reflected in his launch angle progression, moving towards the 20-30 degree average hitters ideally look for to drive the ball, shown in the pictures below.
With another impressive year from Lamb, the Diamondbacks certainly are looking forward to continued improvement and further tapping into his power potential
As the June draft approached, Arizona turned their sights to the smooth swing of Pavin Smith to add to their already bright future. His ability to make consistent contact to avoid strikeouts mixed with some pop made scouts fall in love with the University of Virginia product, mashing his way to the top of draft boards. Aside from his tremendous natural ability, Smith has always been an easy player to root for through his humility and hard work ethic scouts look for as complementary factors to talent.
I was even fortunate enough to play a lot of baseball against Smith as we both grew up in south Florida, even striking him out on one occasion at the age of 12 (which I’m sure he vividly remembers and is still very upset about). When the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him with the sixth overall pick, they chose a player with all the tools and intangibles to help the team win in the very near future.
With Smith, the Diamondbacks may be looking at grooming another lengthy lefty into a hitter of Lamb’s caliber. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Smith is quite literally molded after the 6-foot-3, 215 pound Lamb. Smith doesn’t appear to have the same pop as Lamb just yet, as Smith failed to tally any round-trippers in his rookie campaign with the Hillsboro Hops. However, the product did hit 28 long balls during his tenure at Virginia, while lamb smacked just 10 at the University of Washington. With a similar frame to work with, Smith seems capable of developing above-average, big-league pop from the left side.
Aside from similar physical metrics, both players share similar elements in their respective swings. Both players heavily rely on their bigger muscles to generate bat speed, utilizing their legs and core to create torque to whip the barrel rapidly through the zone. Each stroke can also be characterized by sudden quickness and a compact nature, making it difficult for pitchers to sneak a fastball by them.
In 2017, Lamb hit .290 while slugging .612 along with 16 of his 30 home runs against heaters. Similarly, Smith’s ability to hit a fastball helped him put up incredible numbers in the power-pitcher dominated ACC. While pitchers have learned to shy away from feeding Lamb fastballs, throwing him fastballs 64% of the time his rookie year compared to just 55% last year, Smith should be able to move quickly through the minor leagues while pitchers are still developing effective offspeed.
As the videos show below, Lamb and Smith both show a great ability to clear their hips and not over stride towards the plate, giving each hitter great balance as they track the baseball. By keeping their hips free to turn along with a soft landing on the front foot, they’re able to achieve great rotational velocity to turn around almost any heater thrown their way. This explosive element in each lefty’s swing undoubtedly contributes to the pull-side power we see from these young Diamondbacks.
(Video courtesy of YouTube, 2080 Baseball)
(Video courtesy of YouTube, MLB)
While Lamb certainly shows more pop now than Smith, his ability to make consistent contact and avoid strikeouts lags behind his junior organizational teammate. Over the last three seasons, Lamb has averaged 158 strikeouts whereas Smith only struck out 75 times over his 187 game career at UVA. Along with his ability to avoid the K, Smith has complemented this tool with an ability to draw a free pass, posting a career 1.33 BB/K ratio in college and a 1.25 ratio in his first pro season. If Smith is able to maintain his impressive bat-to-ball skills while building towards 30-homer potential like Lamb, he could be a nightmare for pitching staffs across baseball.
Of course, the most difficult task for scouts is projecting young players five or more years down the road. There have been plenty of prospects like Smith who don’t turn into players of Lamb’s caliber as well others who turn into Allstars out of seemingly nowhere. While Smith’s ceiling could potentially be even higher than Lamb’s, one of the most attractive pieces to Smith’s game is his high floor. With a mix of power, contact, and intangibles, I would be very surprised if he doesn’t turn out to a player that can’t stick around in the Show. If all goes according to plan for the Diamondbacks, Smith and Lamb could serve as a dangerous lefty duo out in the desert for years to come.