While it’s not always in the hands of the player, if there is one guy who did absolutely everything in his power to try and force his way into some playing time at the major league level, it’s been Canaan Smith-Njigba.
Acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade, Smith-Njigba spent the majority of the 2021 season in Double-A with the Altoona Curve, getting a brief look in Triple-A towards the end of the schedule.
After being added to the 40-man before the 2022 season, he began the year in Indianapolis, raking to a tune of .277/.387/.408, with a wRC+ of 118 in 52 games. He was an on-base machine, and despite not showing power in the traditional sense, was driving the ball very hard off the bat.
He made his major league debut later on, playing in three games — and picking up his first career hit — before a wrist injury forced him to miss the rest of the season.
Coming into spring, it seemed there was a general idea of who might make up the outfield to start the season, with maybe a lone spot up for grabs when it’s all said and done.
Smith-Njigba has been one of the standouts in spring, batting .326/.404/.522 in 46 at-bats entering the last day of exhibition games, picking up five extra-base hits (two home runs), 11 RBI, drawing five walks and swiping a pair of bags.
While regular counting stats don’t always tell the whole story, it’s been his overall pitch recognition, the plate patience, and the way he’s driven the ball when he’s gotten the opportunity.
Even though he’s hit the ball hard, it hasn’t translated into the power numbers you would expect, mainly due to a low launch angle — much like Ke’Bryan Hayes.
We’ve seen Smith-Njigba drive the ball in the air more this spring, which is leading to the more traditional numbers you look for.
Taking a look at Smith-Njigba in the batter’s box, he looks like he should be tackling running backs on Sundays (he did tackle a pitcher in the AFL a few years back, so maybe that counts?). You can really see him use that to his advantage this spring, using his entire body to generate the power behind his swing.
When he’s able to get in position to load up, his swing is quick and compact (with a bit of lift) that can just turn and destroy a baseball.
We’ve seen and heard about the power, but that isn’t the only thing that he’s doing to impress in spring. He’s also showing his ability as a complete hitter and take things the other way when needed.
The first hit was a near perfect example of waiting and taking a breaking ball the other way, finding a hole and scoring a runner. We’ve seen some prospects in the system struggle to keep their hands back, but Smith-Njigba has repeatedly showed that ability this spring.
I mentioned on Twitter the other day in reference to Wil Crowe allowing a home run to Austin Riley, that if you throw three straight fastballs in the same spot, especially to a quality hitter, odds are they are going to make you pay.
The third clip shows the two pitches prior to the hit, and while it didn’t end up a home run, Smith-Njigba did pick up his third hit of the day — all of which going the other way.
Spring may be the time for most players to come in and work on some things in preparation for the season. It’s also where some of the younger kids can really make a name for themselves.
There may not have been a player who truly flashed their potential to make an impact with the bat quite like Smith-Njigba. While the first bit of attention will point to the power, he’s shown a far more well-rounded effort this spring.
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.
One reason I’m rooting for Canaan is that he seems so confident and smart that he would probably be the kind of vocal leader I couldn’t imagine Reynolds, Hayes, or Cruz becoming. Obviously he has to prove himself on the field first for that to matter, but it’s a potential extra benefit if he’s able to do so.
I think it’s clear the team is counting on Henry Davis being a major leader too, but he’s very intense. You need a couple different leadership styles for all the kinds of needs in a long season. CSN seems like a real calming kind of natural leader. I hope that proves out one day.
Not very empirical analysis, and probably just wish casting or projecting, but maybe others here see it too?
He should be playing in front of Cutch. Cutch is definitely not apart of the future & they need to find out if CSN is.
162 games and the Pirates aren’t expected to make the playoffs this year. He’ll have his chances.
Tis the season for great development stories, can anyone link me to anything written on CSN? Short of that, does anyone have good video from his past to compare to what actual developmental changes he may have made of the winter?
Well, here we can see his left and right hook years back in a mound charge.
And his brother is a WR from Ohio State that looks to be drafted in the 1st round of the NFL Draft.
That’s all I got.
Haha right on man.
I’ll have to dig through all my stuff on my hard drive to see what I all have on CSN. If I do I can upload it to my YT page
Thanks brother, great article!
I have been thoroughly impressed with CSN this spring. Even hias outs are hard. One of his home runs was the other way. He really has 3 home runs, because he hit a hoe run that was a single, when passed the runner between 1st and 2nd. That gives him 6 XBHs. I am interested to see if he can continue what he did in ST.
well he got his 3rd that counted just a little ago going to left/center. Dude is STRONG