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2017 Mets Season Review: Dominic Smith made his major league debut

The Mets’ 2013 first-round draft pick graduated to the big leagues

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

All in all, the Mets’ 2017 season was a bummer, man. Everyone got hurt, and a bunch of guys we had come to enjoy rooting for in recent years were traded away. The upshot to those things was that they cleared up some roster space and opportunity for a couple of much-anticipated prospects. The headliner, of course, was Amed Rosario, but the other guy, Dominic Smith, was arguably the more intriguing, as there was (and is) far less consensus on his talent and potential.

Dom Smith was the Mets’ first-round draft pick (13th overall) in 2013, and there have been many takes and widely divergent assessments of his future prospects ever since. The recurring knocks on Smith center on his in-game power, his weight, and his inability to change positions if need be. These are all fair criticisms for sure. That he is truly “only” a first baseman placed a lot of pressure on him to develop his offensive game in the minor leagues, and it will continue to do so now that he has been called up.

Smith, to his credit, got better as he progressed through the Mets’ minor league system—particularly in terms of his power game. Conventional wisdom points to AA as a significant test for prospects, and Smith met the challenge nicely in 2016 for the Binghamton Mets with a career-high 14 home runs and a solid .302/.367/.457 line. The Pacific Coast League’s well-documented offensive environment notwithstanding, Smith again turned in a good effort in 2017, hitting .330/.386/.519 in 500 plate appearances for the 51s.

The Mets traded Jay Bruce to the Indians on August 9th, and they promptly picked up the phone and gave Dom Smith his long-awaited call. Given all the circumstances, it was the perfect time to give Smith a look, and to give him some valuable major league experience heading into the offseason as the Mets’ heir-apparent at first base.

It is folly to put too much stock in the first 183 plate appearances of any player’s major league career—and that’s a good thing, because they were uneven at best for Dom Smith. Smith often looked overmatched at the plate, and his .198/.262/.395 batting line reflects that, though he did manage to hit nine home runs.

So sure, those results weren’t good, but did anyone really expect them to be? Dom Smith is all of 22 years old. He had already played nearly a full season’s worth of baseball by the time he was called up, and as he blew past his personal high-water marks for games played and plate appearances logged, he was, by his own admission, exhausted and physically unprepared.

Smith’s newfound and candid awareness of how to better prepare himself for the grueling slog of a full season of Major League Baseball is one reason to be optimistic about his future. Another is his first-round pedigree, and the fact that it bore itself out in his steady improvement throughout his minor league career at successively harder levels—and at a consistently younger age than the competition he faced, no less. These factors suggest that Smith may well come into his own as a perfectly acceptable, if perhaps unconventional, major league first baseman.

Of course, the question remains what that path to “acceptability,” let alone his ceiling as a player, actually looks like. Smith has been a polarizing player among the scouting class since he was drafted (and probably before), which confuses efforts to issue forecasts with any sort of confidence. The other issue, in view of the uncertain trajectory that lies ahead of him, is whether the Mets are willing or able to wait for Smith to find his groove as a major leaguer.

It is difficult to say at this point what the front office’s thinking is concerning a timeline for a return to contention. If it’s intended to be sooner rather than later, they could opt to sign an established first baseman, include Smith in a trade package that returns a player who helps them in another area of need, and wait a couple years for their other first-base prospect, a power-hitting hulk of a dude named Peter Alonso, to get ready to make his own debut.

Time will tell, of course. For now, Dom Smith is the Mets’ first baseman in 2018, and the fact that he is still very much ascendant—to what height, no one knows—should prove an interesting, and maybe even exciting, circumstance.