Black MiLB Players #19: Canaan Smith-Njigba
Background + Path to Professional Baseball
Canaan Smith-Njigba is a 22-year-old outfielder of Sierra Leonean descent in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization from Dallas, Texas. He comes from an athletic family, as his younger brother is a star wide receiver at The Ohio State University. A catcher while he was in high school, teams walked him so much his senior year that he fell some draft boards because teams did not think they saw enough swings from him. The New York Yankees drafted the elder Smith-Njigba brother in the 4th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of Rockwall-Heath High School, in the suburbs of Dallas.
Starting his professional career with the Yankees Rookie-level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League during the 2017 MiLB season, Smith-Njigba went .289/.430/.423 with 10 doubles and five home runs in 237 plate appearances at the age of 18. During his age 19 season playing with New York’s short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League, he struggled to a .597 OPS and 81 wRC+, as his strikeout rate ballooned compared to the prior year.
Making his full-season debut during 2019, the outfielder played 124 games in the South Atlantic League, where he went .307/.405/.465. He stole 16 bases, hit 32 doubles and 11 home runs in addition to drawing the second most walks out of all the qualified batters at all three full-season A levels.
Before the 2021 season, Smith-Njigba was a part of a four prospect package sent by the New York Yankees to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for starting pitcher Jameson Taillon.
During the 2021 MiLB season, Smith-Njigba only played in 73 games due to two stints on the injured list. He put up a 127 wRC+ in the 266 plate appearances he accumulated at Double-A Altoon, going .274/.399/.406. After the conclusion of the 2021 MiLB season, the outfielder was placed on the Pirates 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.
Canaan Smith-Njigba is 6'0'’, weighs 240 pounds, bats left-handed, and throws right-handed. He has muscular and broad shoulders, thick wrists, and strong hands. His lower half is thick, but also muscular and chiseled as his torso. Faster than he looks, but is still a slightly below-average runner.
He stands in the box with a very wide and open base with his hands held perpendicular to his chest. It is a very simple and somewhat handsy swing that starts with a simple leg kick. He implements his entire body into his swing, consistently rotating and keeping everything in sync. Smith-Njigba’s approach is oriented around spraying the ball to all fields and drawing walks. The outfielder mostly hits ground balls, and based on his swing is probably in need of an adjustment to lift and drive the ball more frequently.
He has posted a double-digit walk rate at every level where he has recorded a substantial amount of games played while not posting an alarming strikeout rate. All in all, he has an average hit tool to go with above-average on-base skills. Based on the fact that his approach hinges on drawing walks, it is going to inherently inflate his strikeout rate a bit.
Njigba has displayed some ability to steal bases despite being a below-average runner and having a build not conducive for running the bases. He’s an average baserunner as he won’t hurt you but probably will not help you that much either. He’s a below-average defender in the outfield and has an average arm.
Canaan Smith-Njigba is one of the talented individuals of continental African descent who personifies the African diaspora’s diversity and presence within the game of baseball along with Touki Toussaint, Akil Baddoo, Jordan Nwogu, Oluwademilade Orimoloye, and all the other African baseball players in MiLB and MLB. An on-base machine with some intriguing tools, it will be interesting if the Sierra Leonan outfielder can unlock his hidden raw power. His value will hinge on the contributions he can make in the batter’s box, with his ceiling being a high on-base corner outfielder that is also adept at driving in runs.