When looking at Dominic Smith’s stats from this season—specifically the fact that he has just one home run—it’s easy to be concerned about his future offensive potential. The concerns are exacerbated by the fact that he plays first base, a position where more power is expected. However, there are plenty of good reasons for Smith’s lack of power output this season that should make Mets fans rest a little easier.
The View From Behind the Backstop: Dominic Smith
The Mets 2013 first round pick was given an aggressive assignment to the South Atlantic League. Let's check in on how the eighteen-year old is handling full-season ball.
When developing as young ballplayers, hitters have two kinds of power: raw power and in-game power. Raw power is the natural power a hitter has in his swing as a result of a number of factors, namely strength and bat speed. In-game power is the ability to translate the raw power into games, meaning the ability to square up the baseball with natural loft and drive it out of the ballpark.
A huge misconception with Dominic Smith is that he doesn’t have raw power. He doesn’t have the light-tower power of up-and-comers like Javier Baez and Joey Gallo, but he does have the strength and ability to drive the ball with natural loft out of the ballpark.
I traveled to Greenville in order to watch the Savannah Sand Gnats earlier this summer, and despite Smith’s lack of apparent athleticism, shorter stature, and youth relative to every other player on the field, his batting practice session made him look like a man among boys. You can watch some of his practice cuts from that week in the below video, and you can even hear me get excited starting around the 1:33 mark, where he goes on a streak of pulling balls over the right-center field wall.
It’s hard to tell from the batting practice video, but he started with a professional approach while driving the ball into both gaps consistently. He then proceeded to put on a show, turning on pitch after pitch and lofting balls over the fence with ease. I was skeptical heading into his first round, as I saw all the concerns I had heard about him: the bad body, the lack of energy, the poor projectability. But as soon as he stepped in the batter’s box, he suddenly seemed like the best athlete on the field, looking incredibly comfortable while barreling the ball and smashing it across the outfield and over the fence.
After my few days in Greenville it was clear to me that Smith had more than enough raw power to play first base. This was a relief, because the lack of power projection was clear in his body, but he currently has more than enough raw power to become at least 20-home-run bat in the big leagues.
However, there is still a major question about his ability to utilize that power in games. I can sit here and type all day about how impressed I was with his raw power, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has just one home run on the season, and that it took until this past weekend for him to hit it.
Even with the lack of home runs, Smith’s natural hitting ability has been very impressive and his season should be perceived as a positive one in his development. While Smith has slumped recently, the fact that he is hitting over .280 as a 19-year-old in the Sally League is wildly impressive. Remember, the Mets’ previous two first-round picks Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini spent their first full seasons out of high school playing at a lower level in Brooklyn and hit .248 and .273, respectively. Nimmo also hit just two home runs in the Sally League just a year ago, but he already has nine homers this year, including five since his promotion to Double-A.
The issue with comparing Nimmo and Cecchini to Smith is that Smith plays a position where he is expected to hit for much more power, but the point remains the same. Smith is a young player who has hit extremely well for his age in a league that is tough on hitters. The lack of in-game power is a concern, but considering the raw power he exhibited in batting practice and the natural all-fields approach he has shown off in games, it's not hard to imagine that the raw power will begin to translate in games.
Should we be concerned about his lack of in-game power so far?
The best power hitters in baseball don’t always put up massive home run totals in the minors like Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo have this season. Some players have superior raw power and learn how to utilize it in games later in their careers, a notable example being current Mets first baseman Lucas Duda.
Even with Duda’s very nice season this year, he is sill not one of the premier power bats in baseball. That being said, in terms of raw strength and ability to mash a baseball, Duda is right up there. However, as an amateur coming into the draft, Duda had exhibited almost zero in-game power. In his three-year career at USC, he hit a total of 11 home runs for the Trojans, and that was back in the aluminum-bat heyday where a lazy fly ball could regularly soar over the fence.
The Mets took a flier on the 6’4" behemoth in the seventh round, and Duda still just hit four home runs as a 21-year-old in the New York Penn League. That didn’t change the fact that Duda had monstrous power, and it has taken him until his age-28 season to eclipse 20 homers in the majors.
Now, I’m not suggesting Smith has superior raw power like a Gallo or Baez; my intention is to help alleviate concerns about his nonexistent power output. The process of becoming a major league power hitter comes faster to some than to others. The raw power is necessary, but the ability to jump on a mistake and loft it out of the ballpark takes time.
Right now, Smith is a very natural hitter who turns mistakes into live-drive singles and occasionally doubles. Prospects bust more often than not, and it is definitely possible that Smith either never develops in-game power or that his desire to hit for more power will harm his natural hitting ability.
However, it cannot be forgotten that he is just 19 while playing half his games in Grayson Stadium, a death trap for left-handed power hitters. If Smith is 22 in Double-A and still producing meager home run totals, you can start sounding the alarm about his future. But for now, Smith is doing more than fine, and fans should be excited for his power to come.