Smirnova was pegged as a future ballerina when she was still a student at the Vaganova school--Assylmuratova even cast her as the lead in the Bayadere Shades scene at a school performance. As many people reading this probably know, her alternate in the role that year, ie the second cast (Shapran) is also on a fast track career albeit at the Stanislavsky which is a less high profile company than the Bolshoi. In other words, she wasn't cast because she was lacking for competition or it was a 'weak' year.
When dancers at the Mariinsky penned a letter concerning working conditions at the theater, they even mentioned the loss of Smirnova to the Bolshoi as evidence of the company's problems. Vishneva, too, has been quoted praising her highly. Smirnova may or may not be being pushed too hard and too quickly by Filin--I have seen other major dancers pushed this way and been dubious, though sometimes their careers worked out pretty spectacularly--but she is not exactly his invention.
Personally, I think that it's not out of line for Mckenzie occasionally to bring in "rising" stars as guests if he has reason to think they are potentially major artists and especially if he hopes to build a longer term relationship with them. Like other ABT fans, I have my opinions about and occasional frustrations with ABT management decisions (and loss of dancers like Simone Messmer) but I don't think the invitation to Smirnova was unworthy of the company.
Finally, a big thank you to everyone for these reviews/responses to Bayadere. Looking forward to reading about this weekend's performances as well.