In 2011, the Brewers drafted Smith in the 13th round, out of Rickards High School in Tallahassee, Florida. But Smith did not sign. Instead, he spent a year at Santa Fe Junior College and hit .387/.472/.473 while adding 31 stolen bases in 37 attempts.
Smith played football in high school, and after watching many of his older friends getting college scholarships, he figured the gridiron was his ticket. But a funny thing happened following his senior year, in which he recorded 20 tackles.
"My father played football (and) my brother played football, and they understood what they had done to their bodies," Mallex recalled. "So, after that game, they told me they thought it was a bad idea for me to play football after high school.
"Other family members agreed. We're very close and we measure each other's opinions. In the end, the decision (to quit) was mind, but I had to take their throughts into consideration. I knew they were all coming from a good place."
Mallex began to focus on baseball and was good enough to get drafted by Milwaukee in 2011. Instead of turning pro, he spent a year at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. He was then drafted by the Padres and spent a couple of years in their organization before being traded to Atlanta, where his career path took a couple of crazy turns.
After the 2016 season, the braves traded Smith to seattle. Just 77 minutes later, the Mariners dealt him and two other plauers to Tampa for pitcher Drew Smyly. A year later, the M's re-acquired him from the Rays for catcher Mike Zunino. (Mike Gastineau - Mariners Magazine - August, 2019)
Where did the name Mallex come from?
"Everyone in my family has a first name starting with 'M'," Smith said. "But there was a smart kid in our apartments named Alex. My mom liked his name. So I became Mallex. I'm Alex with an 'M'."
- In 2012, Mallex got drafted by the Padres (see Transactions below).
In 2013, Baseball America rated Smith as the 28th-best prospect in the Padres' organization.
In 2015, Mallex was the Braves 19th-best prospect in Baseball America's revised Top 20 prospect. But he moved all the way up to #7 in the winter before 2016 spring training.
In 2015, Smith was named the organization's Player of the Year when the Braves announced their Minor League Awards. He hit a cumulative .306/.373/.386 with 57 steals in 126 games combined at Double-A and Triple-A.
Mallex is a good teammate.
Mallex's play has alerted fans, the Rays, and their opponents that he's around. So much so that it's being called the "Mallex Effect."
Manager Kevin Cash smiled when asked about the "Mallex Effect."
"Well anytime like the other night he got on base five times, it's going to have an effect, because he's so fast," Cash said. "The other night, the guy was pretty quick to the plate, there was a good-throwing catcher back there and he still found a way to steal bases. That's an effect. You go back to the earlier days, with Carl Crawford and [Melvin Upton Jr.], he can just outrun some things. That's the effect he's had."
How fast is Smith? According to Statcast™ research—and consider that it's a small sample of results, Smith has two of the top five fastest times from home to first base this season. All of the top five came on bunts, and Jarrod Dyson ranks No. 1 at 3.5 seconds. Smith recorded a 3.66 and 3.67 so far in the 2017 season.
In 2016, Smith had 16 stolen bases in 72 games with the Braves. And he stole 230 bases in 399 Minor League games. Bunting is a big part of Smith's game, and he's a tireless worker in trying to perfect his craft. He's also made an impact in the field. According to Cash, Smith has cut off several balls that normally would have been doubles and held the runners to singles.
"He's been really good," Cash said. (Chastain - mlb.com - 4/10/17)
In the first two weeks since his 2017 callup, Mallex has made himself a fixture on Rays television broadcasts for his consistent hitting, his thrilling baserunning, and his visible dedication to self-improvement. When he returns to the dugout after his turn at the plate, cameras were eager to show Smith jotting notes down for himself in a personal journal.
The notes are extensive and detailed. Smith's game preparation is even more so. The notebook is an aspect of Smith's practice most easily observable by fans. The second-year big leaguer has been writing to himself on the bench since 2012, when his father recommended the practice as Smith began pro ball.
He's now on his fourth notebook, all packed with scouting reports individually tailored to what he saw and felt during his at-bats against specific pitchers. The personalized journals are used in combination with the video provided by the Rays in their scouting, and Smith leans on the notebooks when coming into a new series or facing a pitcher he's seen before.
Fans with a good view of the Rays' dugout could see the in-game adjustments Smith made using the notebook on June 21, 2017. A strikeout victim leading off the game, Smith blooped a single to left his next time up and roped an RBI single to right in the at-bat after that, all against Tim Adleman.
"Mallex goes up there his first at-bat, strikes out, it doesn't even faze him," manager Kevin Cash said. "He goes in his little notepad, remembers what the guy's trying to do to him, he puts it to use the rest of the game. He's had a very impressive approach here getting on base for us."
Smith is making his biggest developmental strides preparing behind the scenes. However, hitting coach Chad Mottola said, "His whole bunt routine is like nothing we've ever seen—including [field coordinator] Jimmy Hoff, who's been in the game for almost 50 years and teaching bunting."
Not only does Smith take more pitches to practice bunting than most, he'll break it up into specific and goal-oriented tasks. Bunts from a knee, bunts against lefthanders, bunts against breaking balls. Unlike most players, he wants to practice on the field so he can drop bunts precisely on the line, Mottola added. The routine bears resemblance to the workout of a basketball player working on his jumper.
"I'll bunt the ball in all directions but then I'll bunt the ball in a certain direction five times in a row," Smith said. "If I can't execute it five times in a row, then I won't move on to another direction. I've got to make sure I get them all down."
The purpose of the lengthy routine is to establish muscle memory, Smith said. He has a similar goal in mind when he steps into the box for a teammate's between-start bullpen session.
"Anybody that wants to throw a bullpen, I try to make sure I stand in there so I'll be able to see. You can't hit what you can't see," Smith said. "When I'm in there, I'm just working on my vision, trying to work on tracking the ball the whole length. When I would attack, and how I would attack that pitch, would I swing at that pitch. You know, just trying to play the game before it happens."
The repetition in bunting and eyeing pitches, along with the internalization that comes with writing down what happened while at bat, form the pillars of Smith's learning style. He's comfortable using that routine and for his diligence, he's been rewarded at the plate recently. (Mount - mlb.com - 6/23/17)
August 8, 2017: Mallex confessed during an interview on "Intentional Talk" that he is a Florida Gator fan even though he was raised in Tallahassee, the home of the Florida State Seminoles. He said it was tough being a Gator fan in Tallahassee.
Mallex in the 18th player to wear number 0. His oldest sister Loreal wore number 0 when she played basketball. However his favorite number in 13 because he has a fascination with Jason in the horror movie "Friday the 13th." He says he likes that number because as a player he wants to be the other teams worst nightmare. (Intentional Talk-August 8, 2017)
Mallex is the youngest of four children. Each member of the family is an athlete. Running track, playing basketball, softball and baseball. His brother Michael was a running back for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Mallex also played safety on his high school football team.
May 2018: Mallex tends to make things happen, one way or another, whenever he is on the field. He is greatly looking forward to sharing that stage with his maternal grandmother, Willie Mae Footman, who was announced as the Rays Honorary Bat Girl for the annual MLB-wide "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative commemorated on Mother's Day.
"It means a lot,'' Smith said. "For me she is like the glue of our family.'
'Footman, 68, is more than eight years past her diagnosis of breast cancer. She has spent much of her life working with kids, retiring from posts with Leon County Schools, the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department and the Girl Scouts. She also has done extensive community service work. Because the Rays will be on the road on Mother's Day, she will be recognized at the May 27th game and receive pink MLB merchandise.
"For her to be honored in a way that's bigger than just in Tallahassee means a lot to me,'' he said. (Marc Topkin-Tampa Bay Times - May 10, 2018)
Sep 22, 2018: It's a "football" afternoon and Mallex Smith is thinking about a decision he made during his senior year in high school. While his teammates get ready for their afternoon game in Toronto, Smith is throwing a football with anyone who will join him.
"I am definitely the football guy on the team," Smith said. "I keep a football on me all the time." The Rays' 25-year-old right fielder didn't grow up as a baseball player, his first love was football. Baseball came around when I realized that I could really play baseball in like 11th grade," Smith said. "Then, by the time my 12th-grade year came around, that's when I kind of made the switch very reluctantly."
Smith played safety at James S. Rickards High School in Tallahassee, Fla. He was never a top recruit, but he insists he would have played in college had he not switched to baseball. It was a change Smith made when he began to realize the dangers associated with playing football.
"Just being able to have my knees and my head when I'm through with my career was worth missing out on the sport," Smith said. The decision didn't always sit well with Smith. After being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, he flew through the Minors and made his Major League debut in 2016 at the age of 23 with the Braves. He went 6-for-44 to begin his young career and finished the season hitting .238 in 72 games.
"When I was going through my first struggles and everything was just so new, I just didn't know," Smith said. "You go through your first 3-for-45 and you start questioning did you make the right decision, but like all things, just stay true to it and continue to work hard and I feel like I'll reap the benefits." Smith has been a breakout star this year for the Rays. His batting average sits over .300 and his 35 stolen bases in 2018 rank third in the Majors. His success this year has confirmed to him that he made the right decision giving up on his football career.
He flashed his football prowess in the fifth inning of an 11-3 victory over the Blue Jays when he tracked down a hard-hit fly ball from Devon Travis and made a leaping grab before colliding hard with the lightly padded outfield wall in Toronto.
"I've had collisions, I've run into people, I've ran into walls and it doesn't bother me," Smith said. "That's what I like to do, so if I'm running into a wall, at least the wall isn't moving."
If the game doesn't go too late, Smith will likely be hustling back to his hotel and parking himself in front of the television to watch the Florida Gators game. He'll watch and think about how different things could be if he didn't opt to focus on baseball in 11th grade. (A Rose - MLB.com - Sep 22, 2018)
2019 Season: When the Mariners acquired Mallex Smith a year ago from the Rays, they envisioned a young speedster who could be their leadoff hitter and play center field as part of their rebuilding plans. A first season of struggle with Seattle and an impending influx of promising outfield prospects could change that plan, but there remains some intriguing potential in the freewheeling Florida native, and it would be premature to close the book on a 26-year-old who led the Majors with 46 stolen bases despite his disappointing .227/.300/.335 slash line.
“I’m just getting my feet wet here in Seattle,” Smith said before heading home for the offseason. “I made a little splash this year and I’m trying to make a big splash moving forward.”
While Kyle Lewis (Seattle’s No. 10 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline) and Jake Fraley (No. 8) figure to be pushing for roster spots in the outfield this spring, and the team’s No. 1 prospect (and No. 13 overall) Jarred Kelenic likely to be in the picture as well, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto says Smith remains part of the plan with three years of team control remaining.
“Mallex has a lot more ability to impact the game than we saw this year,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know why [he struggled]. He was traded to a new team, [he] is becoming first-time arbitration-eligible, there are a lot of reasons you could conjure up. Even the [right elbow] injury early in the season and missed Spring Training. But a reset is going to do him some good and I really think we'll see a much better version of Mallex in 2020.”
What went right?
After getting off to a bad start both at the plate and in the field and getting sent down to Triple-A Tacoma in late April, Smith worked diligently upon his return in May to regain his confidence and improve his defensive work in center field. By season’s end, he ranked eighth among all MLB outfielders in Outs Above Average, a Statcast metric measuring the number of plays made and degree of difficulty.
“I give him a ton of credit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He really played solid defense the last three-quarters of the season. It’s been really good. He’s been able to finish plays. Mallex was getting to a lot of balls early [in the season], he just wasn’t finishing the play. Balls would tip off his glove and whatnot.
"And that [turned around] just because of hard work. He didn’t bury his head in his locker and feel sorry for himself. He just said the only way out of this is to work through it. He did a really nice job there.”
Smith also got on a hot streak at the plate in midseason, batting .307/.371/.488 with 24 runs, 15 extra-base hits and 13 stolen bases in a 29-game stretch from May 27 to June 26 that showed both he and the Mariners what he’s capable of when things are clicking for him.
“It’s just been a learning experience,” Smith said. “One, being with a new team and then dealing with some new struggles, getting out of it, getting back in it, getting out of it. Then just continuing to prevail and stay healthy and continue to build, develop, grow. Get tested and figure out why I’m falling short and just continue to bounce back every day. That was a really good thing about the season and the learning that came with the failures."
What went wrong?
Smith clearly was pressing when he joined the team after its return from the season-opening series in Tokyo. After hitting .296/.367/.406 in his first full season in the Majors for the Rays in 2018, he found himself batting just .165/.255/.247 in his first 27 games with Seattle before being sent to Tacoma to regroup.And while his defense improved dramatically as the year progressed, Smith’s offense regressed again in September when he batted just .131/.232/.131 in 20 games.
“A little seesaw,” Smith said of his season. “This game is hard and you have to continue to show up every day and put in the work. Just because you put in work, [it] doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get the results, but you still have to be at it and ready to compete. You still have to be open to growth because you’re going to need it in some way, shape or form as you go forward.”
Smith swiped a career-high four bases on May 27 in a 6-2 victory over the Rangers, including stealing for the “cycle” in the eighth inning when he walked, then stole second, third and home. He was the first Seattle player to steal home since Dustin Ackley in 2012 and he equaled the Mariners record for most stolen bases in a game.
There’s no guarantee that Smith will be the everyday center fielder. The Mariners will be curious to see what Fraley and Braden Bishop (No. 14 prospect) can do in that spot this spring, while the 20-year-old Kelenic works his way up to the Majors.
But if Smith smooths out his offensive game, he certainly still has the athleticism and ability to find a niche and even to carve out a significant role with the Mariners. It’s worth remembering that at 26, Smith is two years younger than Mitch Haniger, the same age as Bishop and just two years older than Fraley and Lewis.
“One of the great benefits with Mallex is that he can play all three outfield positions,” said Dipoto. “We needed somebody to play right field, he played right. We need him to play left, he can play left. And that may be the role that he winds up filling here now as we are developing a good deal of depth [in the outfield].” (G Johns - MLB.com - Nov 5, 2019:
June 2012: Mallex signed with scout Willie Bosque of the Padres for a $375,000 bonus after they chose him in the 5th round, out of Santa Fe Junior College in Gainesville, Florida.
December 20, 2014: The Padres sent LHP Max Fried, INFs Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson, OF Mallex Smith, and international bonus compensation to the Braves; acquiring Justin Upton and RHP Aaron Northcraft.
January 11, 2017: The Rays traded LHP Drew Smyly to the Mariners for SS Carlos Vargas, Smith, and LHP Ryan Yarbrough.
- Nov 8, 2018: The Mariners traded C Mike Zunino, LF Guillermo Heredia, and LHP Michael Plassmeyer to the Rays for CF Mallex Smith and CF Jake Fraley.
- Jan 10, 2020: Mallex and the Mariners avoided arbitration, by agreeing to a one year deal worth $2.35 million.
|Birth City:||Tallahassee, FL|
|Draft:||Padres #5 - 2012 - Out of Santa Fe JUCO (FL)|
Smith needs to get stronger. But his speed allows him to beat out a lot of infield hits and bunts.
He is developing into a solid leadoff hitter with outstanding speed on the bases. He has impressive plate discipline for on-base skills. True, he lacks home run power, but he makes consistent contact, and plays small ball real well.
Mallex puts a whole lot of pressure on the opposition's defense, flying down the first base line and stretching singles into doubles.
He takes his walks and is a good bunter. He can bunt his way on base, or served the ball to the left side and beat one out with his great speed.
Smith is likely more Juan Pierre than Michael Bourn but good leadoff hitters are hard to find. He could be one. He completely forgoes power by cutting off his swing and keeping the ball out of the air.
“It’s not pretty,” said one scout, “but he puts ball in play and can run.”
Braves assistant director of player development Jonathan Shuerholz said of Mallex's overall play in 2015: "His skill set includes speed, the ability to steal bases, the ability to bunt for base hits and the ability to handle the bat,” Schuerholz said. “But don’t let those things fool you. He is capable of shooting the ball into the gap and ending up on third base, which is fun to watch.
“His outfield play is getting better every day. He’s definitely a frontline player who is making tremendous progress.”
April 2016: Instead of simply receiving the congratulatory messages that often follow a Major League debut, Mallex received a flurry of lighthearted messages from friends, who had some fun with the fact that the Braves outfielder's first big league experience abruptly ended with a headfirst slide that left him with five stitches sitting above the bridge of his nose. (Smith's much-hyped debut ended when his batting helmet fell off his head, bounced off the dirt and smacked him in the forehead as he completed headfirst slide during an unsuccessful attempt to steal second base.)
"I got it all last night, from 'Wow, you're soft for leaving the game,' to 'I hope you're OK,' to 'Maybe you'll look better now,' to 'It didn't even look like anything happened,'" Smith said. "So, yeah, I got it all." (Bowman - MLB.com - 4/12/16)
May 2016: Mallex thought he had a pretty interesting story to tell after he was forced to exit his April 11 Major League debut because he busted his forehead open on his very first stolen-base attempt. But that story has been trumped by the tale of his first career homer, which became a reality moments after he thought he'd recorded his first career triple.
After Smith slid head-first into third base with one out in the fifth inning of a 3-0 win over the Mets, Braves third-base coach Bo Porter informed him that he thought Smith's opposite-field fly ball was actually a home run. Replays showed the ball cleared the orange line along the outfield wall in the left-field corner, and after a 57-second crew chief review, the young outfielder trotted toward the plate, savoring the fact that his first homer came off Matt Harvey.
"It seems like I've been under review a lot, but that's awesome," Smith said. "It's awesome to get it off a phenomenal pitcher. I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball. It just so happened that it was 335 feet down the line. I might have hit it 336." (Bowman - MLB.com - 5/3/16)
- As of the start of the 2020 season, Smith's career Major League stats were: .259 batting average, 13 home runs and 372 hits with 111 RBI in 1,435 at-bats.
Mallex is still learning the nuances of playing the outfield, but he can catch up to most any mistakes of breaking the wrong way. His speed is excellent. And he is improving his jumps and routes, providing excellent range. (Spring, 2016)
- Smith has a below-average arm. But it is still playable in center because his throws are very accurate.
Mallex has game-changing speed (a 70 or even an 80 on the 20-80 scale). His entire game revolves around that great speed.
In 2013, Smith swiped 64 bases during his full-season debut.
In 2014, he led the minor leagues with 88 stolen bags.
Wheels mean steals for Mallex. That's why the Rays speedster works to keep his wheels in working order by spending his offseason of 2017 with the University of Florida's track team.
Smith has always been fast, swiping bases at every level of baseball—including 32 steals in 158 career big league games. But growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, he never participated in track, even though the sport ranked high in his family since his two sisters and his mother were all track athletes. His mother, who coached track, used to show up during lunchtime at Smith's high school and take him through mini workouts to help his speed. After signing with the Braves in 2012, he began working out with the Gators' track team under the watchful eye of head coach Mike Holloway, a longtime family friend. Smith has worked out with the team every offseason since.
"When I got with [Holloway], we started breaking down my mechanics and really focusing in on just getting my turnover, going a little quicker," Smith said. "I had to get off of my heels. When your heel hits the ground, your foot is on the ground too long. And I learned how to use my arms.
"Even sometimes now, I flail my arms too much. But just being able to efficiently pump my arms to be able to get my legs to do less work and maintain a little more energy and stamina while I'm running. Those are two key things off the bat I had to work on, just kind of keeping my mind mentally."
Holloway likes having Smith around, and he said the athletes on his team do as well. "Mallex is a great young man," Holloway said. "He brings a lot of energy and passion. The thing I like about having him around is he challenges everybody to work as hard as he does.
"We talk about having a championship environment here. I don't want anybody around here who subtracts from that environment, and he doesn't. He adds to it. Obviously, you've got a guy here who is a Major League Baseball player. And there are thoughts and feelings he has and things he's gone through that he can impart wisdom on my younger athletes to help them get through what they're going through."
Smith enjoys spending the offseason with the tracksters. "I like to have fun," Smith said. "And I think I bring a little different dimension. When I come in, it's their offseason, too. We have fun. They get to laugh at my form. They pick on me about things. I let them know I'm a baseball player. I don't run track, I'm just trying to get a little faster for my sport. That still doesn't keep them from picking on me."
Along the way, Smith has gotten to know some of track's big-time athletes like Christian Taylor, Chantae McMillan, Demetrious Pinder, and Tony McQuay to name a few.
While what Smith does on the track with the team is important, what he does off the track—emulating what the track athletes do at the training table and in the weight room—might be even more beneficial.
"Sprinters take care of their bodies," Smith said. "A lot of fruits. They eat organic. Very strategic, because they have to keep their weight down. They just want to put good things in their body. I know how they have to prepare and I know it's a very healthy lifestyle. They're not eating past a certain time at night."
Smith still believes if a person is fast, he is fast. "You can't necessarily teach someone to be faster," Smith said. "What you can do is clean up your mechanics and move more fluently. If you work on moving more efficiently and train at a high speed, eventually you should gain a step or two. I know I feel like I have."
Smith is a track fan, and likes to watch the athletes he trains with whenever he can. "In 2016, I was watching the Olympics and cheering on the girls and guys," Smith said. "It was fun because I'd trained with some of them, and there they were, competing at the highest level."
Holloway said Smith is part of the Florida track family, and he added that Smith received the ultimate compliment from his peers. "As he started to get better and his technique began to improve, you could hear guys and girls on the team say, 'Whoa, Mallex is starting to look like a track guy,'" Holloway said. (Chastain - mlb.com - 4/06/18)
In May 2019, Mallex stole home in the eighth inning of a 6-2 win over the Rangers, capping a “stolen base cycle” and a club-record-tying four-steal night.
Smith, who swiped second, third, and then home when reliever Kyle Bird threw to first on a pickoff attempt following his one-out walk. Smith also singled, stole second, and scored in the third inning.
Smith’s four stolen bases were a career best, and he became the first Mariner to steal home since Dustin Ackley in 2012. Smith said it was the second time in his career he’s stolen home in about seven attempts. “It was great to see Mallex get going,” said manager Scott Servais. “I’ve never seen anybody steal three bases in one inning.” (Johns - mlb.com - 5/27/19)
- 2019 season: Mallex Smith ran away with the Major League stolen base crown for 2019, becoming the second Mariner in club history to lead the Majors in steals. Smith recorded 46 stolen bases this season — 3 more than Kansas City’s Adalberto Mondesi. He joins Ichiro Suzuki, who led the Majors with 56 steals as a rookie in 2001, as the only Mariners to pace all of baseball in stolen bases.
Smith’s 46 steals tied for 5th-most in club history and were the most by a Mariner since Ichiro’s record-setting season in 2001.
- May 14, 2013: Smith was on the D.L.
June 21, 2014: Mallex was on the D.L.
June 20-Sept 16, 2016: Smith exited the game and went on the D.L. after getting hit by Antonio Bastardo's 91-mph fastball in the seventh inning. The rookie outfielder remained in the game to run the bases, but he exited in the bottom half of the inning to undergo an X-ray that revealed the left thumb fracture.
April 14, 2017: Smith was on the DL with right hamstring tightness.
Aug 25-Sept 3, 2018: Smith was on the DL with viral infection.
Feb 18, 2019: Smith expects to be cleared to start doing some defensive drills, but no throwing, as soon as he begins his return from a muscle strain in his right throwing elbow. The 25-year-old leadoff hitter, one of Seattle's primary offseason acquisitions, injured the flexor bundle in his right arm when overdoing his throwing routine last month while preparing for his first Spring Training with the Mariners. (The flexor bundle is located at the bottom of the humerus bone, which connects the shoulder to the elbow.)
Smith won't be allowed to throw for several weeks, and won't be able to swing a bat initially, as he lets the inflammation get out of the elbow, but he will start catching fly balls and doing some running as the Mariners prepare for their Cactus League opener.
"The first few days, they wanted me to not do anything to aggravate the elbow at all and let the inflammation go down," said Smith. "Now, I'm just waiting to be told when I can ramp it up."