Rebuilds come with difficult decisions. 2021 presented a few of those for the Texas Rangers, highlighted by the decision to cash in on the trade value of fan-favorite Joey Gallo. The club's front office decided a trade offer from the New York Yankees was worthwhile, especially since deepening the farm system was one of the Rangers' main objectives in 2021.
Josh Smith was one of four players received in the trade, and the Rangers promoted him to the Double-A level after just nine games with High-A Hickory. Smith, a second-round pick by the Yankees in the 2019 MLB Draft, had mashed the ball at both of New York's Class-A levels, combining for a .324/.448/.641/1.089 slash line, nine home runs, 24 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 39 games.
In his first taste of Double-A ball, the LSU product slashed .294/.425/.431/.857 with three home runs, 10 RBI and seven stolen bases in 30 games with the Frisco RoughRiders.
All in all, it was a successful year for Smith. However, success was coupled with chaos.
"It's cliché, but it really was the craziest year of my life," Smith said after a leadership seminar at Globe Life Field earlier this month. "Things kind of switched on a dime. After processing it all, looking back, it was a special year. This is a special organization to be a part of. It's closer to home for me, so that's exciting. It's a new opportunity and I'm really excited to be a part of this."
When the season ended, Smith and his wife, Claire, immediately went into "relax mode," spending two weeks on the beach. It gave him time to reflect on a year where he went from the most storied franchise in the history of baseball to a club that has no World Series banner to hang in its home ballpark.
Even so, Smith repeatedly stressed how special the Rangers organization has been to him—specifically, the club's attention and care for its players.
"That was one thing that I noticed immediately when I got here, just how comforting they are," Smith said. "The Yankees did a good job as well, but here it's very special. This is a really big market for baseball, being in Texas. These guys are heading in the right direction. ... Those guys make you feel wanted and I'm really excited about it."
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Smith was one of six prospects chosen to take part in the aforementioned seminar hosted by select members of the Rangers front office and big-league staff. Highly-touted prospects like Jack Leiter, Josh Jung and Cole Winn were also in attendance. The club's choices of who to invite was no accident. The Rangers are making tangible investments in developing Smith into a player that can eventually contribute in Arlington.
"These are players that we think highly of and we hope in time will play here," said Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. "From a facility and staff standpoint, along with some of our programs, there was an opportunity for us to introduce that to them. Hopefully, it will help shorten up the learning curve a bit when the time comes when they are in the big leagues."
By the time Smith gets to the Show, there will be a two-headed monster standing in his way. Smith is primarily a shortstop, and the club just invested half a billion dollars in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to shore up their middle infield for at least the next seven seasons.
Instead of fretting about the roadblock, Smith might have been just as excited as fans.
"My immediate reaction was, 'I should get an outfielder's glove and find a new position,'" Smith laughed. "For the Rangers to get both of those guys is extremely big for this organization. Those are two of the better players in the Major Leagues, at premier positions. I think it's pretty cool that hopefully one day I'll have a chance to play with those guys."
As of the time of the seminar, the Rangers had not yet asked Smith to change positions. However, Daniels did admit it's a "natural possibility" that the club may eventually approach him or some of the other middle infield prospects to learn a different position. For Smith, he says he has played some third base, but never played the outfield.
Smith will be entering his first full season with the Rangers in 2022. As he looks to build off 2021's strong performance at the plate, Smith is more than willing to work on increasing his defensive versatility.
"Honestly, [I'll play] anywhere," Smith said. "Whether it's catcher or first [base], it doesn't really matter. I'll just try to find my role with the team in the future to hopefully help them win some games."
Promo image: Courtesy of The Prospect Times
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