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ADP Debate - Mallex Smith vs. Victor Robles

When given the choice between a mostly-unproven talent who could contribute something in five categories on one hand, and a newly-successful player likely to be limited in HR and RBI, who would you pick?

This is essentially the choice presented by Mallex Smith and Victor Robles this draft season. Both are being drafted within the same round of each other, based on preseason ADP. That doesn't mean they will necessarily provide the same return on investment, however.

Today, we'll break down the key differences between these outfielders to determine which player should be selected first on draft day. When you're done, take a look at some other ADP Debates for outfielders, such as Adam Eaton vs Kyle Schwarber or Andrew Benintendi vs Marcell Ozuna.

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Mallex Smith - Natural Born Thief

(ADP: 99)

Mallex Smith has always been a base-stealer. He nabbed 32 bags on 45 tries in his first 153 games with the 2016 Braves and 2017 Rays. However, that came with just a .256/.323/.360 slash line, limiting his playing time and hence his fantasy production.

In 2018, however, Smith produced a jump in his play that rivaled his jumps off of pitchers: he gave the Rays a .296/.367/.406 line in 141 games. All that time on base paid off with a career-high 40 steals on 52 attempts. Only Whit Merrifield and Trea Turner had more SB, and now Smith is a borderline top-100 asset entering his 2019 debut campaign for the Mariners.

Projection systems aren't usually convinced by a single season, however, it's too early to assume Smith's true talent matches the 117 wRC+ he put up in 2018. Steamer, for example, foresees only a .263 average as part of a 98 wRC+ in 2019. That is even lower than his .270 average in 2017, however.

That said, the speed is real, and another 40 steals are a real possibility. Smith draws enough walks, an 8.6% career clip, that he can still be a viable leadoff hitter even with a .270 average, and last year probably did earn him the ability to work through at least one slump without hitting the bench too hard.

However, despite the projections, Smith could prove himself to be an above-average hitter now, similar to what Eddie Rosario and Aaron Hicks did for themselves last year, and there is no doubt that Smith can justify his 99 ADP this year. But is he a better choice than Victor Robles?

 

Victor Robles - New Sheriff in Town

(ADP: 102)

Victor Robles' elbow injury last April not only denied him the opportunity that Juan Soto so thoroughly exploited, but it also denied us analysts of some of our beloved sample size. Robles only got 291 plate appearances last year across all levels. Despite that, the 66 of those that came at the highest level went quite well: .288/.348/.525 with three HR, three SB (on five tries), and 10 RBI. Don't go prorating that over a full season or you'll start to get 30-30 vision, and that won't happen. Robles' 2019 upside is closer to 20-20, although that would still represent a surprising amount of power. Steamer likes 12 home runs and 27 steals with a 102 wRC+.

There's a reason scouts love Victor Robles, and this is his third preseason as a top-10 prospect at MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus. MLB.com states that Robles "has the makings of plus hitter from the right side of the plate, with a compact but explosive swing and a present feel for using the whole field. His power played consistently in 2017 thanks to a more leveraged swing and better pitch selection." Given a 60 hit tool, 55 power tool, and 75 run tool by MLB.com, Robles has backed up the scouts with a career .300/.392/.457 minor league line.

Unfortunately, with just 93 total plate appearances for Washington over two years, Robles is still ultimately an unknown at the Major League level. However, given his prospect pedigree and success in the minors, he is very likely to be competent. Can you absolutely rely on him for more than competence? No. But does he have a chance to give you more? Absolutely.

 

Conclusion

Context always matters, so if you've entirely ignored steals or already drafted some riskier assets, you might want Smith over Robles. However, Robles has a ceiling that many drafters are finding irresistible near pick 100, and it's a ceiling that just isn't there for Smith due to his power shortcomings.

Importantly, however, even if each player only hits to their projections, Robles can still give you 10 points of BA and 10 extra HR in exchange for 15 fewer SB. Depending on lineup positioning, you could very well do better in R+RBI with Robles also, especially if he lives up to that .392 minor league OBP.

There seems to be a consensus that Robles is one of the safer prospects in some time and his upside on top of that is worth a shot over Smith in most draft situations (barring an unanticipated return of Bryce Harper returning to Washington without a corresponding trade of Adam Eaton). Things can always change but for now, unless you are solely searching for speed, Robles seems to be the one to target when approaching the triple-digit selection mark of your draft.




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