With the eleventh overall pick in the 2013 draft, the Mets selected California prep first baseman Dominic Smith, a guy who eventually projects to be a plus defender at the position and an above average hitter. While he was only the third-highest rated player available on my draft board — Braden Shipley and DJ Peterson were both ranked higher — I loved Smith and have no qualms with the Mets taking him.
We’ll start with Smith’s abilities at the plate, since that’s what’s going to make or break him as a prospect. He’s a very good looking high school hitter, displaying batspeed, raw power, and a smooth swing with a very mild uppercut. In time, I expect him to become a guy who can hit for average and power, somewhere in the vicinity of a .280-.300 hitter with 25 dingers or so a year, provided he makes some adjustments. There’s a chance for better, especially considering that Smith is one of the draft’s youngest players, not turning 18 for another week or so. I don’t think I see superstar potential here, but there is enough to make me think that Smith should be a long-term, above average regular.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops at the plate, however: Smith does need some refinement. His biggest problem is a propensity to step towards the pitch and hit the ball way out in front. This is something--and I really don’t mean to invite comparisons here, because they are at different points on their development curves--that Ike Davis actually used to do while he was playing at Arizona State. And I say this as a good thing, because it’s something coaches were able to fix in Davis. Good hitters let the ball come to them where they can put the most weight into the pitch and let their natural batspeed do the work of driving the ball. By hitting the ball way out in front, Smith is sapped of any ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. Some hitters are forced to hit this way because of a lack of batspeed; Smith has enough to spare. By waiting on the pitch a little more--and not overstriding--Smith can develop the all-fields power you love to see in a young hitter. I’d also work at getting him to leave his hands a touch higher; this will give his swing path a little more of an uppercut and will generate the loft required to hit the ball over the wall. While some might hesitate to lengthen a hitter’s swing, I think he has enough batspeed to make up for it.
Another issue is he just needs a little more refinement in his approach. Some scouts complain that Smith can get overeager, swinging at breaking balls out of the zone that smart hitters learn to ignore. Like I said, he’s young and shows a mental aptitude for hitting, so I’d wager that he eventually refines the approach, which already exceeds most kids’ at the same age. Pitch recognition takes time for all hitters, and Smith is young.
Defensively speaking, Smith figures to be an asset. While he doesn’t have a lot of footspeed, he does have quick feet, which are not the same thing. He has agility around the bag and great hands. But his best feature is his arm. Also a pitcher, Smith has been clocked as high as 94, and while many don’t often think about a first baseman’s arm, it’s what often is the difference between a good defender at first and a great one. Ask Keith Hernandez. I don’t know if Smith is as good a defender as, say, 2012 draftee Jayce Boyd was, but I do believe he will be in two or three years. He looks like a natural at first base, and any polish he still needs will come in time. Scouts rave about his work ethic and baseball acumen, so I do expect him to take to whatever coaching the Mets’ staff has to offer.
Some people might mention that Smith can also play right. I think they’re crazy, but not necessarily because I feel he can’t. Right now, if you put him in right field, I think he could be passable there, and his superior arm strength makes the thought intriguing. However, there are two reasons why I think you’d be crazy to even try. First of all, as his body continues to mature, he’s going to lose mobility. Right now he runs a 6.9 60-yard dash, which is probably fringe-average, and would be enough to handle a corner outfield position. But let’s say his footspeed drops to below average. Yeah, he still might be able to stay out there, but you’d be cringing every time a you had a flyball pitcher on the mound. And if his speed drops even further? A disaster of Lucas Duda proportions.
Second, by moving him to the outfield, you’d be turning an asset into a negative. He has a chance to be a Gold Glove-caliber defender, and those don’t grow on trees, even at first base. By keeping him at first base, you’ll have someone who will help your other infielders make plays while simultaneously possessing the ability to make plays himself. You don’t want to put Smith in a position where his defense wipes out his offensive contributions, nor do you want him to stress out about his defense to the point where it distracts him from the work he needs to do at the plate. It’s best for everyone involved if you put the kid where he’s going to succeed, and that’s at first base.
And the final question? Signability. He’s committed to Southern California, which is a great program, but with the amount of money being the eleventh pick has to offer, I don’t figure signability to be a big issue, nor do I expect the Mets to receive a bargain. In other words, he’ll sign for roughly slot, which is great news for Mets fans, who can look forward to watching what is potentially a very good first baseman develop. I immediately place him as the Mets' third-best position player prospect, behind Travis d'Arnaud and Wilmer Flores.