Mallex Smith: Atlanta’s Speedy Role Model Smells the Roses

Mallex Smith is a speed burner. He’s also a big leaguer. Atlanta called up the 22-year-old outfielder earlier this month when Ender Inciarte went on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. He’s off to a slow start — Smith has reached base just 12 times in 50 plate appearances — but a bright future lies ahead. The Braves’ 2015 Minor League Player of the Year is coming off a season in which he slashed .306/.373/.386, with 57 steals, between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.

A fifth-round pick by the Padres in 2012, Smith was acquired by Atlanta in the December 2014 Justin Upton deal. He talked about his call-up, and his deep appreciation for where baseball has taken him, prior to yesterday’s game at Fenway Park.

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Smith on getting called up from Triple-A: “I got called into the office and that was just to say, ‘We don’t know.’ They said we had to wait and see. I was told I wasn’t going to play that day, and the reason why. It wasn’t until after the game that it was a definite.

“I was thinking about it on the bench, but it’s easy when you’ve got stuff going on, like a game. I sat there and cheered for my teammates. It was definitely a surprise, but you never know what’s going to happen, and when it happened it happened real quick. I’m happy.”

On calling home with the news: “The call had to wait until after the game. There’s no need for a call to say ‘maybe.’ It was nice. My parents are happy for me. But this isn’t the end of the road, so they were just happy. It was more like, ‘All right, now it’s time to move on to the next stage of your life.’

“There was emotion, but… we’ve been working, been working, been working. And we’re still working. I guess a lot of emotion didn’t come out because at the end of the day, I know that this isn’t the end of the book. I think a lot more emotion will come when I’m done playing.”

On stopping to smell the roses: “I’m learning just from being up here. Just learning how to control emotions is big. Playing in front of crowds that are bigger. Playing in stadiums that are bigger — big-name stadiums with a lot of passionate fans.

“I’m taking everything in. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my work, I want to allow myself to enjoy what is going on around me. Especially on a day like today. When we got here [to Fenway Park], I went out and sat in Ted Williams’ chair. I sat in the red seat for probably a good 10 minutes, just looking around. I haven’t been inside the Green Monster yet. I went over there twice, but the door has been locked. I want to go in there, too.”

On his game: “I feel I can handle the bat a little bit. I’ve yet to prove it up here, but in due time, all things shall unfold. I feel like I play a pretty decent center field. I just need to clean up my routes and make sure I make the routine plays to keep the game in order.

“My game is built around speed. Definitely. I don’t want to knock that. That is the carrying tool of my game. Just causing chaos, in general. Just the thought of me having speed is chaos.

“I played for Delino DeShields in the Arizona Fall League, and we talked a lot about that. [Delino DeShields Jr.] stole over 100 bases in the minors one year. Billy Hamilton stole 155 that same year. That’s a lot of bases to eat. When you’re like that, just being out there makes the game speed up for everybody else.

“I stole 88 between Low-A and High-A [in 2014]. I had the green light most of the time, but not all the time. When I was in Fort Wayne, my manager wanted to hold me up a little bit in certain situations. That was to learn. He wanted me to learn about why he’d hold me up.”

On honing his baseball IQ: “When I first came to pro ball, my IQ for baseball wasn’t that high. It still needs to grow. I’m learning more and more, especially up here. This has very much been a teaching year.

“When I was younger, I thought my career was going to be in football. I played wide receiver, cornerback and safety. It was my first love. I love playing baseball, too, but I kind of didn’t think it would go anywhere. Nobody from my area played… I was the first person from my high school to make it to the major leagues.

“When I was growing up, Tallahassee, Florida wasn’t really big into baseball. It was just something we did. It was, ‘It’s baseball season, so let’s go play baseball.’ Basketball season, most people played basketball. But the tallest person in my family is 5-8 — I’m 5-9; I maximized — so I knew basketball was kind of out of the question.”

On being a role model: “Now that I’ve kind of made it, I try to work with everybody in the city when I go home. And it’s growing. Every year I go back, there are more kids playing baseball. It’s not like the DR and all, but just knowing the kids and where they come from, for them to want to come out and play baseball, just because they see one of their own playing… it’s a very humbling feeling.

“I’m talking about kids who show up wearing flip flops and jeans. That’s all they have. But they want to play baseball, so we’re going to play. I don’t care what you’ve got. That’s the type of environment we have. But it’s growing, and kids are starting to show up with gloves now.

“I have a lot of hometown support. I’ve had people tell me I’ve got Tallahassee excited. That means a lot, because Tallahassee did so much for me. I know what it means for those guys, especially in the African American community, seeing one of their own playing baseball. When I got drafted, I had people telling me ‘I didn’t even know you played baseball.’ That’s how deeply rooted in the football community I was. Me being here gives guys another door. We don’t have to stick to just football and basketball. We have opportunities in baseball, too.”

We hoped you liked reading Mallex Smith: Atlanta’s Speedy Role Model Smells the Roses by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Bob Davidson
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Bob Davidson

Another 2016 Braves puff piece.