Since the Rule 4 Draft was instituted in 1965, 41 of the 57 players selected with the 11th overall pick have gone on to make a major league debut. Of those players, thirty-five have produced positive value for their team. Many of those players went on to have outstanding careers, most notably Max Scherzer, Andrew McCutchen, George Springer, Greg Luzinski, Shane Mack, and Neil Walker, among others.
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 appeared in 48 games for the GCL Mets and 3 games with the Kingsport Mets that season, but his season began in earnest in 2014, when he began the season with the Savannah Sand Gnats, an aggressive assignment to be sure. He had a solid-if-unspectacular year, hitting .271/.344/.338 in 126 for the Sand Gnats with 1 home run and 51 walks to 77 strikeouts. His numbers in St. Lucie in 2015 were similar, as he hit .305/.354/.417 with 6 home runs and 35 walks to 75 strikeouts.
It is about this time that Smith became regarded as a somewhat polarizing prospect. Some blamed Smith’s age and environment for his lack of power and believed it would come. Others saw Smith’s passive approach at the plate as a detriment for future power potential. 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.
As expected, Smith hit the ground running upon his promotion to the Las Vegas 51s in 2017. In 114 games, thanks to a change to his approach coupled with the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, he hit .330/.386/.519, slugging a career-high 16 home runs in 457 at-bats. He made his major league debut in August and ended up hitting .198/.262/.395 in 49 games.
With Lucas Duda traded during the off-season, Smith competed with veteran Adrian Gonzalez to be the Mets’ starting first baseman, but he missed most of spring training due to a quadriceps injury. He began the season in Las Vegas, and spent about half of the year in Triple-A and half of the year in the major leagues, hitting .258/.328/.380 in 84 games with the Las Vegas 51s and .224/.255/.420 in 56 games with the Mets. Smith spent the majority of the 2019 season at the big league level and had something of a breakout season, hitting .283/.355/.525 in 89 games with 11 home runs and 19 walks to 44 strikeouts. Coincidentally or not, Smith began using a CPAP machine for his severe sleep apnea earlier in the year, and many noted that the machine was making the first baseman more alert and productive. He maintained a high level of performance in 2020, playing in 50 of the Mets’ 60 games during the COVID-shortened season and hit .316/.377/.616 with 10 home runs, 14 walks, and 45 strikeouts. While his performance was certainly noteworthy, as he ended the year placing thirteenth in National League MVP Award voting, perhaps the highlight of his season was an emotional interview he gave after the Mets and the Marlins walked off the field in solidarity against police brutality and racial inequality in late August.
Smith hit .244/.304/.363 with 11 home runs with 32 walks and 112 strikeouts in 145 games, his on-field performance impacted by a torn labrum he sustained in May. His poor performance and regression in 2021 coupled with the acquisition of other players clouded Smith’s future and role with the Mets, to the point that legitimate trade discussions were had that involved Dom. He remains in the organization, but for how long remains to be seen.