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Pirates All 40: Canaan Smith-Njigba Must Navigate Roster Traffic

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Canaan Smith-Njigba had barely unpacked his bags upon his first call to the major leagues when the outfielder’s 2022 season abruptly ended.

The outfielder was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on June 13. The next night, Smith-Njigba hit a pinch-hit double off the Cardinals’ Giovanny Gallegos in his first major league plate appearance at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

It was the first time a Pirates’ player had an extra-base hit in his first major league plate appearance since Tony Sanchez in 2013.

However, the next day, Smith-Njigba broke the scaphoid bone in his right wrist when, while playing left field, he collided with center fielder Bryan Reynolds as they chased a fly ball in St. Louis. Smith-Njigba required season-ending surgery.

Smith-Njigba wound up going 1 for 5 in his first three major league games. That came after he began the season by hitting .277/.387/.408 for Indianapolis with one home run and eight stolen bases in 52 games.

Just prior to his promotion to the major leagues, the left-handed hitting Smith-Njigba had reached base safely in 40 of his previous 41 games. He hit .297 with a .417 on-base percentage in that span with 12 doubles, three triples, one home run, 16 RBIs and 30 walks.

With Indy, Smith-Njigba started 25 games in right field, 13 games in left field and seven games in center field.

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Smith-Njigba hits the ball hard to all fields and scouts believe there is more power potential in his 6-foot, 230-pound frame. While he has good on-base skills, Smith-Njigba is an average runner at best. He is considered a below-average outfielder who takes poor routes to the ball.

MLB.com ranks Smith-Njigba as the Pirates’ 27th-best prospect. He is not on Baseball America’s list of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects.

The good news for Smith-Njigba is that he remains on the 40-man roster and is still just 23 years old.

The bad news is the Pirates have nine outfielders on the 40-man roster. And that does not include Andrew McCutchen, whose free-agent contract is not yet official.

Thus, Smith-Njigba faces a steep uphill climb in spring training to win a spot on the Pirates’ opening-day roster. He almost certainly will begin the 2023 season back at Indianapolis.

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