Covering the abrupt rise and fall of Chuck Smith and the painful but proud twilight of Martín Prado’s MLB career.
Fish Stripes is bringing you daily articles as part of the All-Time Marlins Countdown leading up to 2021 Opening Day.
Today and every Saturday through the end of the series, I will be a “pinch-hitter” for the Fish Stripes staffers who ordinarily handle these articles. Plenty of contrasts between the two featured players in this chapter.
41. Chuck Smith
You weren’t expecting to find Chuck Smith placed so highly in this countdown, were you?
Born in Memphis and raised in Cleveland, Smith took a circuitous route to the Marlins major league roster. We typically apply the “journeyman” label to ballplayers who frequently change teams once they reach the pros, but Smith was a cross-country traveler even before that. He attended high school in New York, then went the JuCo route (Central Arizona College) before arriving at Indiana State University.
More than 1,500 players were selected in the 1991 MLB Draft, but not Smith. He inked an amateur free agent deal with the Astros instead. He split his next seven seasons with the Astros and White Sox organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A. In 1998, the right-hander tried his luck overseas in the Mexican League and Chinese Professional Baseball League (Taiwan). Over the summer, he had an excellent stretch of starts with the indy ball Sioux Falls Canaries. The Rangers brought Smith back into affiliated ball for the 1999 season and the Marlins were encouraged/desperate enough by his performance to trade for him in June 2000—in exchange for outfielder/first baseman Brant Brown—and immediately elevate Smith to The Show.
Smith debuted on Jun. 13 with six strong innings against the Phillies. He remained a fixture of the Marlins rotation for the rest of the 2000 campaign. At age 30, he was the oldest Florida starter during that span (Alex Fernandez was born a couple months earlier, but had suffered an injury in May that would prove to be career-ending).
Smith posted a 3.23 earned run average as a “rookie” and it was no fluke—he had a nearly identical 3.24 fielder independent pitching (FIP), thanks to his knack for preventing home runs. Here are the MLB FIP leaders for the 2000 season among pitchers who logged at least 100 innings:
- Pedro Martínez (BOS), 2.17
- Randy Johnson (ARI), 2.53
- Kevin Brown (LAD), 3.17
- Greg Maddux (ATL), 3.23
- Chuck Smith (FLA), 3.24
One BBWAA writer gave him a third-place vote for NL Rookie of the Year. He finished tied for sixth in the balloting with Lance Berkman and Juan Pierre.
Smith had some great individual outings in 2001, but wasn’t nearly as effective overall (4.70 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 1.41 WHIP). An arm injury derailed his season after 15 starts. Over the next several years, he was knocking on the door for a return to the majors, but topped out at the Triple-A level with the Rockies, Braves and Orioles. He hung up his cleats following the 2006 season.
Shortly after retiring, Smith was elected mayor of Woodmere, a village in the Cleveland suburbs. He held that position for nearly a decade.
40. Martín Prado
It goes without saying that Prado’s Marlins tenure was completely different from Smith’s. They were approximately the same age when they joined the organization—the Yankees traded Prado to Miami shortly after his 31st birthday—and the Fish, as has often been the case, weren’t yet in a position to contend for the postseason. But that’s where their similarities end.
Prado instantly brought credibility to the Marlins. On the strength of elite contact skills and defensive versatility, he had already earned nearly $30 million from the Braves, Diamondbacks and Yankees, with $22 million still owed on the back half of his contract. He had been an NL All-Star in 2010 and a .300-plus hitter in four different seasons.
There were high expectations for Prado, and he lived up to them in 2015 and 2016. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs agree that his performance was worth 7.2 Wins Above Replacement as the everyday third baseman, combining smooth defense with better-than-average offense. Outside of Miguel Cabrera, Mike Lowell and his eventual successor, Brian Anderson, Prado is the finest player that the Marlins have ever had at the hot corner.
In the aftermath of José Fernández’s tragic death, the Marlins signed Prado to a three-year, $40 million contract extension. They were leaning on him to help their clubhouse and the surrounding community through this crisis and betting on his skill set to age gracefully.
Due to recurring injuries, the twilight of Prado’s playing career was cringy to experience. Hamstring, knee and quad issues forced him to the bench for the majority of the 2017-2019 seasons. Even when active, it was evident that his agility and core strength had deteriorated. He ranked second-to-last among all major leaguers in isolated power (min. 500 PA).
Nobody would mistake Prado for being the “face” of the franchise during his half-decade with the Marlins, but he was an exemplary leader. He did everything that was physically possible to get the most out of his ability. Miguel Rojas, in particular, credits Prado with taking him under his wing.
During those final years in Miami, Prado came to terms with reality: the Marlins were entering a long rebuild and he was on an untradeable contract. But rather than pout, he embraced the process.
This is the final day of the 2020 regular season.
Here is Martín Prado on the final day of the 2019 regular season, after finishing 57-105, sharing his outlook on the Marlins organization.
“I think the team is going in the right direction.” pic.twitter.com/muVBNsnPiK
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) September 27, 2020
I look forward to seeing how Prado will continue to make a positive impact in the next chapter of his life.