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Looking at Mallex Smith's impressive month of May

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Mallex turned 23 in May. He was also one of the Braves' better players.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mallex Smith was impressive in the month of May, even if it wasn't quite what we expected out of the rookie.

Mallex ended May with a .267/.300/.493 line and 109 wRC+ while splitting time between lead off and the 9th spot in the order. He was top-three on the Braves in homers, RBI, runs scored and stolen bases despite not playing everyday; he struggled against lefties and usually sat on the bench in favor of Jeff Francoeur, but mashed righties. Smith's OPS against right-handed pitchers is now .855.

The biggest thing Mallex needs to do moving forward is slow the game down. That is (obviously) easier said than done. With 80-grade speed, it's hard to imagine anyone telling him to slow down. But you can count on more than one hand the number of times Mallex goofed on the base paths, got overzealous at the plate, or had happy feet in the outfield. As he continues to get reps -- more on that in a minute -- he should continue getting comfortable at baseball's highest level.

Another area to improve: plate discipline. After walking quite a bit in the minors, Smith's walking in just 6.6% of his at-bats while striking out one-fourth of the time.

Mallex's defense has been better than advertised. It's still a small sample, but he is among baseball's best at +7 Defensive Runs Saved through just 304 innings. It's not a coincidence the Braves' staff ERA has dropped since he and Ender Inciarte have roamed the outfield together.

If I'm the Braves, I find a way to get Smith in the lineup nearly every night. Francoeur is hitting well, but that probably won't continue. Nick Markakis could use a night or two off each week. It's tough to have Inciarte's glove on the bench, but a night off against a tough lefty would be fine.

The only way to know what you have moving forward is to give Mallex as many reps as possible; he can't do that sitting the bench two or three times a week. Maybe he gets 200 at-bats against lefties and continues to be abysmal. At least the Braves have a better idea of what to expect in 2017, when they want to be competitive again.