PITTSBURGH -- As Mallex Smith progressed through the Braves' Minor League levels last year, he looked like Billy Hamilton with shoulders. Though he might be a tick slower than the fleet-footed Reds outfielder, Smith has already provided strong indication he has the greater offensive potential and the ability to occasionally produce some unexpected power.
After the Braves encountered an early nine-run deficit on Tuesday night at PNC Park, Smith drilled a pair of two-run homers that fueled a comeback bid that fell short in a 12-9 loss to the Pirates. The rookie outfielder has recorded three home runs through the first 31 games of his career, or one more than he hit while combining to tally 484 at-bats with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year.
"I'll hit every single one of my home runs in my life by accident," Smith said. "I'll stick to my game and know who I am as a player."
Though he stands with Freddie Freeman as the only Braves who have hit more than one home run this year, Smith knows that his primary value is what he can provide in the field and on the basepaths. He entered Tuesday tied for the lead among all Major League center fielders with eight Defensive Runs Saved.
But over the past couple of weeks, Smith has shown that he can impress with more than just his legs. Since hitting .136 with a .445 OPS through his first 15 games with Atlanta, the 23-year-old has batted .347 with a .993 OPS over the 16 games that have followed.
"He's still rough around the edges," Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. "The kid is a ballplayer. I've never seen the kid take the negative things we go through negatively. His eyes are always wide open and his ears are always wide open on everything you say. That ceiling is pretty high on that kid. He's learning to play at the Major League level. He's not the first to do that. I see him just keep growing."
Snitker experienced his first game as a big league manager on Tuesday after the Braves dismissed Fredi Gonzalez. In the process, he was reminded of how much Smith has grown since he began managing him with Gwinnett during the second half of last year.
Smith struggled through his first few weeks with Gwinnett and then took off, much like he has as he's better acquainted himself to the big league scene over the past few weeks.
"I think personally with time, I get better. It's a new level," Smith said. "When I got up to Triple-A, I struggled for a month. This is where the best of the best is at. So, why wouldn't I think I would struggle here? Just as time progresses, I get used to seeing everything and the flow of the game."