Order up! Smith serving exactly what Rangers ordered

June 9th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry's Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- A Rangers All-Star infielder named Josh pulled up to Hurtado Barbecue’s Arlington location and began taking orders and greeting customers.

Alongside that Josh [Jung] was another Rangers infielder named Josh [Smith], and he has the opportunity to earn his first All-Star selection this season.

The 2024 MLB All-Star Ballot once again features two phases of fan voting to determine All-Star starters. Fans can cast their votes exclusively online and via mobile devices at rangers.com/vote, the MLB App and the MLB Ballpark App until the voting period for Phase 1 concludes at 11 a.m. CT on June 27. During the initial voting period, fans can submit up to five ballots each day that voting is open.

The Rangers have nine players on the All-Star ballot: first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, second baseman Marcus Semien, Smith at third base, shortstop Corey Seager, catcher Jonah Heim, outfielders Evan Carter, Adolis García and Leody Taveras, and Jung at designated hitter.

Smith has filled in for the injured Jung at third base this season, and he has done so admirably, with a .285/.373/.430 line. He’s already logged career highs in hits (57), runs (30), doubles (15) and RBIs (24).

Smith is not the Rangers’ biggest name on the ballot. But he might be their most deserving.

“Starting back in Spring Training, you could see a different Smitty,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He came in with a great look about him and a sense of determination to get back to being the player that he is. I know last year he didn't get a lot of playing time, but with what happened [with Jung], we needed somebody to step up in a big way to ease the blow. He gives you so much flexibility. He gives you great defense wherever, he's a tough out, he’s a good guy to have up there with runners on base. So yeah, he should be on the All-Star ballot.”

Smith was one of four prospects the Rangers got in the Joey Gallo deal at the 2021 Trade Deadline. Though Smith made his MLB debut the following season and played 163 games between ‘22-23, he couldn’t find a level of consistency at the plate that allowed him to thrive.

Smith hit .197 in 2022 and .185 in ‘23, and he appeared in games at second base, third base, shortstop and left field during that time.

Now, in less than a year, Smith has become more than just a defensive replacement, especially after a number of adjustments at the plate this offseason, which have driven his hot start.

“I think he's always been putting together good at-bats, right?” veteran outfielder Travis Jankowski said. “He's always finding a way to get on base, whether that’s a hit-by-pitch or a walk. His at-bats have always been good. Last year, he put the ball in play a lot, but he was a bit unlucky, and sometimes, it was right at people. I think he's actually understood his swing a lot more this year. And he understands the subtle adjustments you have to make every day, and it's paying off for him.”

Smith ranks second in team bWAR (2.6, behind Semien), third in fWAR (1.7, behind Semien and Seager), first among healthy Rangers hitters in wRC+ (132) and second in OPS+ (132, behind a streaking Seager).

“He's really kind of come into his own,” Seager said of Smith. “He's started to figure out how they're gonna attack him and what he can do to take advantage of it. It’s fun to see, and it's been helpful and beneficial for all of us, too. It's cool.”

Who knows what the future has in store for Smith once Jung returns from injury, which will likely happen soon. But for now, he’s one of the Rangers’ best hitters.

“He’s done everything that you can ask of a guy who was supposed to be a role player,” Jankowski said. “Coming off the bench and doing what he did and getting thrown into the fire there pretty early in the year, filling in for Josh Jung and doing it arguably better than anyone. I think you can make a case for him [on the All-Star team]. He's probably been the best hitter we've had consistently. I know that his name isn't as popular as some names in this clubhouse. He is more deserving than anyone, in my opinion. It's pretty special what he's doing.”