5. Dominic Smith, 1B
Height: 6'0", Weight: 185 lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft
2015: High-A St. Lucie: .305/.354/.417; 7.0% walk rate, 15.1% strikeout rate
Dom Smith is a polarizing prospect. People who have seen him either love him or think he's nothing special. There's not much middle ground, unless you're someone who is trying to aggregate all of these opinions into a consensus. We've ranked him fifth here, which I think is a firmly indecisive place to put him. We're not too down on him, and we're not crazy about him. For a prospect like this, we might as well put all the information we have on the table.
The people who like Smith tend to gush about his approach at the plate and his power potential. For example, Keith Law had eyes on Smith in October when he was playing in the Arizona Fall League. It's a glowing report that declares Smith "one of the top pure hitting prospects in the minors." The report speaks about Smith's impressive wrist and hand strength and concludes that the raw power is going to start showing up in games. It's worth noting that Smith hit .362/.483/.511 with a 20 percent walk rate in the Arizona Fall League.
Before he took a job in the Braves' front office, Kiley McDaniel spoke highly of Smith, and he, too, thinks the power will start showing up in games eventually. If all you did was look at what Smith did as a 20-year-old in High-A and read the reports from Law and McDaniel, you would think the Mets have a no-doubt-about-it prospect on the way.
Of course, that's not all the information we have on Smith. Jeffrey Paternostro has seen Smith on multiple occasions, including this past season, and hasn't been moved off his initial impression—which was, in short, unimpressed. There was also an in-depth report from Jeff Moore, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, where he points out a number of negatives about Smith, mostly zeroing on his passive approach at the plate. Reports of his lackadaisical attitude have followed him around since before he was drafted, to the point now that I'm convinced he just has a really laid back personality. There's also evidence of an Ike Davis-like willingness to bark at umpires about calls, as mentioned in Law's piece and seen in the videos within both Paternostro's and Moore's pieces. These are all respected evaluators, and they end up at opposite ends of the spectrum, so what do we make of this?
Make no mistake, Smith had an excellent statistical season. He led the Florida State League in doubles, didn't turn 20 years old until June, and was named the league's most valuable player. Reports on his defense at first have typically been very positive. Add it all up with the conflicting reports and I'm inclined to lean positively on Smith. I think people may be turned off by his laid back approach, which can be mistaken for disinterest or laziness, but I think that's just who he is and how he carries himself, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. My biggest concern for Smith is that when Alex Nelson wrote him up after he was drafted, one of his issues was that Smith tended to get out in front of the ball, which leads to a lot of weak contact. That issue has not yet been ironed out and may be the thing he needs to correct before he can translate that raw power into game power.
The funny thing about all this is that Smith is so young we could be having this debate for the next couple of years. He's going to start the year as a 20-year-old in Double-A, which will likely make him one of the three or four youngest players in the league. If he's able to replicate his performance from 2015 and begin to translate that raw power to in-game power, I think the consensus on him will become clearer.