INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s pretty simple to see how 23-year-old Canaan Smith-Njigba earned his first Major League promotion this week with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Throughout the season, despite ups and downs, two constants remain for the six-foot, 215 pound outfielder — playing hard, and confidence.
On at least a handful of occasions, Smith-Njigba stretched an easy single into a hustle-double. He’s also consistently made the correct base running decision, and is rarely, if ever thrown out on a play like that. On the other side, he’s made several diving plays, after getting a good read on a ball defensively. He combines both smarts and hustle on the field.
“My mentality is just to play the game hard,” Smith-Njigba said. “I know my role and I know my job. I know what I do well in this game, and that’s getting on base. If I can get on base, or stretch a single into a double, that just means the next guy can hopefully drive me in to score runs and win ballgames. That’s the ultimate goal, to win ballgames. I just try to do everything I can so we can do that.“
Along with the grit, Smith-Njigba owns another unsung tool offensively. He possesses an uncanny eye on the edges of the plate.
Between what he’s done with the stick and his eyes, the left-handed hitting Smith-Njigba claimed a 28-game on-base streak earlier this year. Speaking of confidence, he felt like it should have been 29 with an unjust error ruling on the road.
“It’s just grinding,” Smith-Njigba said. “I know my game. I trust my eyes. When I put a good swing on the ball, I hit the ball hard, just like anybody on the field. I had a good streak going… I just put some good bats together, preparing well, and having a good routine.”
After the on-base streak, Smith-Njigba went on a nice run offensively. In nine June games, he hit .342 with a .931 OPS. This performance followed his .437 OPS in May. Shortly before his promotion, Smith-Njigba discussed how he was feeling with his game.
“It feels good, I feel like I’m getting rewarded,” Smith-Njigba said. “I feel like I’m still getting in my groove. I’m just staying in my approach, and being aggressive. When I’m aggressive, I’m as good as anyone. I feel like I’m the best player on the field. When I’m being aggressive, staying in my approach, and swinging it strikes, I feel like the only one is beating me as me. “
Smith-Njigba, who was acquired last year in the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees, is not interested in limiting himself as a player. He also continues to have faith in himself for his future outlook
“I’m just trying to be a complete hitter, a complete player,” Smith-Njigba said. “I’m not trying to just be labeled as just one thing. I have a lot of growing stuff to do in this game, but I take a lot of pride in what I put into this game. I just really want to help the team win, and be unique, a style of play, and always keep people on their toes.”