This week at the General Managers meetings, Mets GM Sandy Alderson was asked if Dominic Smith would have to win the first base job in spring training. Alderson replied “He didn’t win it in September, let’s put it that way”. Ouch.
Smith saw his perceived future value decline precipitously last season. This despite winning the team’s Sterling Award for top all-around player in the farm system after batting .330/.386/.519 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs in 114 games for the AAA Las Vegas 51s. Smith’s problem is not what he did in AAA. It’s what he didn’t do once he finally got the call to the major leagues.
Even Smith knew that his pro debut had not gone well. As he told the Daily News when given the award during the last week of the major league season:
It feels like it was quite a little bit ago [being in the minor leagues]. But still it helps me really feel happy and proud of my year. You can forget that when you are up here and focusing on playing every day and maybe not playing as great as you would like, you kind of forget the stuff you were able to accomplish on the way here. For me to be able to accept the award, it’s definitely a great feeling and it gives me a chance to think about what I have accomplished.
After his call-up to the major league team on August 11th, Smith hit just .198/.262/.395 with 9 home runs and 26 RBIs. Those numbers are probably what Dom meant by saying he was not playing as great as he would like. He tailed off significantly after August 31st. In 29 games after that, the lefthanded batting Smith hit only .220, although he did hit 6 homers.
You can see his average dropping as the season neared its end in this graph:
Scouts have noticed that Smith’s swing looks a bit long, making him vulnerable to hard stuff inside. They worry that he’ll have to guess or cheat to get to those inside fastballs. Terry Collins, former Manager and now Special Assistant to the General Manager, thinks Smith needs to change his approach a bit. As he told the Daily News:
You look at some of the balls he’s fouling off. It’s nice to be able to see the ball get deep, and I know he’s a guy who sees the ball and hits a lot to left-center. But you show these pitchers you want to hit the ball the other way, and they’re going to start pounding you inside to see if you can handle it. Once in a while I want to see him jump somebody early, hit the ball out front, and that will force pitchers to move the ball around more, and he’ll get some pitches he can drive.
Hard Work in the Off Season
Dom played in 163 games this season, counting the minors and majors. That’s 33 games more than he had ever played in a single season before. His weight, always an issue, went back up after Smith showed up to spring training looking slim.
I need to come back in better shape and be more consistent. This is the first time I’ve played [so many] games. The first time I am playing in September. This is the most I’ve played in my life. You definitely hit a wall, you get fatigued, you get tired mentally and physically. It’s my first time going through all of it. I didn’t know how to prepare for it. A couple weeks ago, I was out of gas. I hit a wall, just trying to grind out these last couple days. Definitely going into next year, I know what to expect. I know how to pace myself, I know prepare for a long season.
It remains to be seen if Smith will be the Mets starting first baseman next year. With so many holes to fill elsewhere on the roster, the club would like to be able to count on him there. They could platoon him with righty Wilmer Flores. There are also rumors that the team is looking to acquire an outfielder who can also play first base. If Dom has a poor spring training or gets off to a slow start in April (which he’s done in the past), then he could find himself back in triple-A Las Vegas.
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