Arizona Fall League Offers Added Opportunity To Many, Including Canaan Smith-Njigba

Photo Credit: Jesse Kirkendall

 The rosters for the Arizona Fall League was released on Wednesday, and seven members of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization are set to take part. 

Participating in the AFL is a great opportunity to take another step in a player's development, as it features some of the top prospects in baseball at different stages in their progression. 

Based on the current construction of the major league roster, one player's inclusion into the AFL is especially interesting, and that's outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba. Acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade from the New York Yankees, Smith-Njigba was drafted in the fourth round back in 2017 out of Texas. 

In his first year in the Pirates system, Smith-Njigba spent the majority of the time with the Altoona Curve, and in 66 games in double-A slashed .274/.398/.406 with six home runs, 40 RBI and 13 stolen bases. 

He missed some time with an injury but was able to return with enough time to get some more playing time in before being one of several players from the Curve to get called up to triple-A to finish out the minor league regular season.

Things went less than smoothly with Indianapolis, going 2 for 21 (.095) in seven games played, striking out nine times along the way.

Getting to play in the AFL, however, presents an unique opportunity for Smith-Njigba, as it gives him some extra at bats to work on any adjustments that came along during his time with Indianapolis in a game type atmosphere with some of the better prospects in baseball.

Looking at the bigger picture, Smith-Njigba needs to be protected on the 40-man roster or the Pirates risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft. While it wouldn't be a guarantee that he'd be selected, after just getting him in a trade this past offseason, it's hard to believe the Pirates want to turn around and lose him for nothing.

This could also be an audition of sorts. He puts on a good performance, it could open a window for a trade to be worked out if a team likes him enough to want to continue his development in the minors without forcing him to stay in the majors as the case would be if he was a Rule 5 pick.

Or it could also be an audition of sorts for the Pirates themselves. Smith-Njigba happens to play the position that the Pirates have the biggest hole in currently, corner outfield. Adding him to their 40-man would put him within reach of manning a spot in the outfield at PNC Park before the season is up in 2022.

Currently, only one of the three outfield spots in Pittsburgh seem spoken for and that's center field with Bryan Reynolds. Ben Gamel is arbitration eligible and you'd have to imagine he'll be back but in an ideal scenario he remains more of a stop gap option until some of the prospects arrive, and provide support afterwards off the bench.

While some of the numbers don't look overly ideal, Smith-Njigba has shown a good approach at the plate (15.18 BB% in the minors) and has a history of recording good exit velocity.

A strong AFL, followed by a good Spring Training and positional need could vault Smith-Njigba, who will turn 23 in May, up to one of the first players to get the call from the minors.

Ji-Hwan Bae Another Name To Watch

Going through a lot of the names that the Pirates are sending over and most of them make sense. The pitchers all missed time with injuries, so this presents a perfect opportunity to make up some of the innings. 

Nick Gonzales is one of the top prospects in baseball, and Smith-Njigba is knocking on the door to the majors from triple-A.

For Ji-Hwan Bae, he spent all year with Altoona and doesn't have to be protected from the Rule 5 until 2022, but he's intriguing because of the recent power development towards the end of the season, and the fact that he got some time in center field. 

If he spends the majority of the time in center field during AFL play, he could be another player to watch and could eventually end up in the mix to get a call up to play in Pittsburgh.

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