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Getting to know Mets first baseman Dominic Smith

The divisive first baseman will finally get his chance to prove himself on the grandest stage of them all.

Dominic Smith
Chris McShane

Thanks to a 74-88 record in 2012, the Mets made their first selection in the 2013 MLB Draft with the 11th overall pick. With a pick that high, the Mets would be missing out on the cream of the crop available with the first couple of picks, but would still be deciding on players with significant upside. Given some of the players that were projected to still be available when the Mets selected, Tommy Tanous and his team of scouts certainly had a tough decision to make. When the night of the draft came, the Mets selected Dominic Smith, a first baseman from Serra High School in Southern California.

The 17-year-old Smith was considered one of the best pure hitters in the 2013 MLB Draft class and perhaps the best high school hitter, though Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows certainly gave him some competition. He had a quick, loose swing bat, with strong wrists and enough bat control to consistently make contact in all quadrants of the plate. He parlayed that ability into a hit-to-all-fields approach, and combined with his excellent eye and advanced knowledge of the strike zone, most believed that Smith would be an above-average hitter even at the highest levels of baseball.

In addition to glowing reports on his offensive capabilities, Smith was widely considered an excellent defensive first baseman. Despite his larger size, his range was on par with other first basemen, while his footwork around the bag was slick and his hands soft. Downplayed to a degree because of his position, Smith also possessed a strong arm, clocked as high as 90 MPH.

The Mets signed the first baseman roughly two weeks after the 2013 MLB Draft, coming to terms on a $2.6 million dollar signing bonus, about $200,000 under slot value for the 11th overall pick that year. He was assigned to the GCL Mets when their season began, hitting .287/.384/.407 in 48 games. Based on his baseball profile and performance during the 2013 season, Amazin’ Avenue ranked Smith as the Mets’ sixth top prospect for the 2014 season.

Smith was assigned to the Savannah Sand Gnats in his sophomore season, an aggressive assignment to be sure for the 19-year-old with half a professional season under his belt. He had a solid-if-unspectacular year, hitting .271/.344/.338 in 126 for the Sand Gnats. Though Historic Greyson Stadium certainly played a role in his subpar power numbers, Smith’s approach at the plate was also a factor. As a result of his performance in Savannah and a handful of other prospects who improved their standing within the organization, Amazin’ Avenue ranked Smith as the Mets’ eleventh top prospect for the 2015 season.

He hit better with the St. Lucie Mets in 2015, hitting .305/.354/.417 in 118 games, winning the Florida State League Most Valuable Player Award. When the season ended, Smith was assigned to the Salt River Rafters, the Mets’ Arizona Fall League affiliate. He hit .362/.483/.511, impressing many of the fans and evaluators watching him, and though he missed roughly two weeks due to a muscle strain, Smith still wound up being named a member of the All-Arizona Fall League team.

It is about this time that Smith became regarded as a somewhat polarizing prospect. Some, who got to see him in person for the first time in the AFL, saw a lot of power in Smith’s bat. Others, who had seen Smith in person multiple times over the course of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, were not so convinced that Smith had enough power in his profile, owing to a passive approach at the plate. Taking both viewpoints into account, Amazin’ Avenue ranked Smith as the Mets’ fifth top prospect, a ranking that Greg Karam called “firmly indecisive” for a player where the middle ground consensus was getting more and more polarizing.

Smith silenced many of his critics in 2016. Assigned to the Binghamton Mets in their final year with that name, he hit .302/.367/.457, clubbing a team-high and personal-best 14 home runs. Ever the polarizing prospect, analyzing his season in detail still yielded concerns about his in-game power: his surge in power came in a year when Eastern League pitching was down, and outside of a few weeks in late June and July against certain teams, he still lacked the home run totals that are generally considered important for first basemen. Amazin’ Avenue ranked Smith as the Mets’ fifth top prospect for a second year in a row for the 2017 season.

As expected, Smith hit the ground running upon his promotion to the Las Vegas 51s this season. In 114 games, he hit .330/.386/.519, slugging a career-high 16 home runs in 457 at-bats. At the time of his promotion to the big leagues, his home run total ranked 16th in the league, his batting average ranked 17th, his on-base percentage 28th, and his slugging percentage 29th.

Coming into the 2017 season, Smith began making a concerted effort to change his approach at the plate. Since he was drafted, Smith had a known affinity for settling for weak opposite-field hits on non-optimal pitches in lieu of waiting for better pitches to drive. He told

“One of my tendencies is that I like to take the first few pitches. I don't try to do too much. As part of my swing and approach, I try to take what the pitcher gives me. Anything away or middle-away, I'm not going to try to yank.”

Of his 14 home runs in 2016, only one was truly to right field, his pull side. Six were hit into right-center, four were hit into left-center, and three hit to left field. Smith made a clear effort to be more aggressive at the plate and wait for pitches to drive, and the change in his approach had tangible effect on his 2017 spray chart. Of his 16 home runs, seven were hit to right field, and nine to left field, much more conducive to success at the MLB level, against better and more elite pitching.

With Lucas Duda having been traded for minor league reliever Drew Smith, it is now Dominic Smith’s time to show that he has the necessary baseball skills to play first base at the highest level of professional baseball.