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It’s time for Dominic Smith to shine

Building off a good first full season in the majors, Dominic Smith is primed to be an important piece for the Mets in 2020.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets
Dominic Smith hits a walk off three run home run to cap off the Mets 2019 season
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The last moment of regular season baseball Mets fans witnessed was a big one. Facing the NL East champion Atlanta Braves, in the bottom of the eleventh inning after going down two runs in the top of the inning. Two runners on, and after an unceremonious strikeout looking from Rene Rivera, two outs. Dom Smith stepped up to the plate and capped off not just the Met’s amazing run, but his own fantastic season with a three run walk-off home run.

Last season was the best of Smith’s short major league career thus far. In spring training, he competed with Pete Alonso for the starting first baseman job. Despite losing it, he stayed in high spirits and became a valuable left-handed bat off the bench and an option at both first base and left field. His season probably would’ve been even more impressive had he not missed much of the second half of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot.

The former first-round pick has had an air of disappointment following him the last few seasons. After being drafted 11th overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, Smith ascended through the minors in a few short years, never batting below .270. He came up to the major league team in 2017 as the team’s number 3 ranked prospect and put up an ugly slash line of .189/.262/.395 over 49 games. The next spring training he arrived looking to put that behind him, having lost a considerable amount of weight. But after he arrived late to a team meeting he was benched by then-manager Mickey Callaway, and he was dismissed yet again. After the 2018 season where he spent the 84 games in Triple-A, he came back to Queens and improved slightly over his 2017 numbers, putting up a .224/.255/.420 slash line. After skyrocketing through the minors he took a nosedive when he got to the big leagues. A once promising young prospect was now already starting to be written off as a bust.

Smith arrived at Spring Training in 2019 in a very different place than he had been just two seasons before. Once seen as the heir apparent to the first baseman job, he now had to battle it out for the spot with another Mets prospect turning heads — Pete Alonso. Smith had just been treated for sleep apnea, and whether it was that, the competition with Alonso, or just something else that allowed his ability and skill to finally be showcased, he had an amazing spring. But Alonso was right there with him and, in the end, Alonso won the starting job.

With the exception of two games in Triple-A, Dom Smith spent the good majority of the 2019 season on the major league roster. He put up the best major league slash line of his young career, .282/.355/.525. In the two years prior Smith had never put up an wRC+ that even cracked 85, but last year his wRC+ was 133. He showed marked improvement at the plate, and in the field he was the best defensive first baseman on the team, serving as a late inning defensive replacement in games where the Mets held a tight lead.

He played quite frequently in left field as well, a consistent part of the revolving door there that also included J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil. For a player that wasn’t given much experience playing out there, it could’ve gone much worse, looking better there than he had in years past. He wasn’t going to win a Gold Glove and his speed impacted his range, but he made most of the plays he was expected to.

What really derailed Smith’s 2019 season was injury. He suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and was placed on the IL at the end of July, meaning he missed pretty much the entirety of the Mets second-half playoff push. Given the fact that they came up just three games short of the wild card game, it’s hard to believe that having Smith wouldn’t have helped them. But he was there right next to them, getting both players and fans excited from the dugout and wheeling onto the field to celebrate walk-off victories. He came back in time for the last series of the season, and as mentioned before helped the Mets end their season on a high note.

Smith’s projections for this season are suboptimal, to say the least. Fangraphs ZiPS system had him projected to start 53 games, put up a slash line of .251/.306/.409, with a wRC+ of 91 and a fWAR of 0. While not exactly terrible, these projections seem to take a middle ground between his first two seasons in the majors and last season. It’s an interesting question to pose—should fans see Smith’s 2017 and 2018 seasons as more indicative of the kind of player he is? Or his stats from his years in the minors and last season?

This season was supposed to see Smith hopefully build on last season, but then the world stopped due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the season got put on hold indefinitely. Now that it’s coming back with newer rules, Smith might be in a better position than he had been. The acquisition of Jake Marisnick in the offseason and the fact that Yoenis Céspedes will seemingly be ready for the start of the season means that Smith will probably see a little less time in the outfield. But now the Mets will be able to utilize the DH, which means Smith has another avenue to get playing time. If Céspedes gets the lion’s share of being DH, the outfield will open up slightly more, meaning Smith could see some time out there. But one of the most interesting decisions the Mets could make—and one that might work to their advantage with Smith’s ability at first base—is to put Alonso as the DH for some games and allow Smith to play his natural position.

This season could be the season where Smith finally proves himself to a portion of Mets fans who have begun to write him off. He has the chance to show that, despite a bumpy first two major league seasons, there’s a reason why he was taken in the first round, and a reason why he should stay with the team for seasons to come.