Dominic Smith Exemplifies the Mets’ Failure to Develop Players

By Ethan Marshall

 

The Mets have a long history of either failing to identify talent or having talented prospects fail to establish themselves in the majors.  One of the most notorious instances of this came in the 1966 MLB draft, where the Mets passed on Reggie Jackson for the first overall pick, opting instead for Steve Chilcott, who never played a game in the majors. Yet another infamous example were the three Mets pitching prospects in 1995: Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen.  Injuries and poor performance ruined the promising careers of the former two, but Isringhausen was able to overcome them and transition into a dominant closer upon being traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1999.

While not all of the Mets’ much-hyped prospects have underperformed, there is certainly a large amount who have, especially in recent years.  One of the biggest criticisms that can be made of the Sandy Alderson regime is that he failed to develop many players that he drafted.  Until recently, 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo was viewed as a bust. Gavin Cecchini is looking like a bust.  Amed Rosario has been inconsistent thus far in his young MLB career.  It can be argued the only top prospect Alderson drafted that’s worked out has been Michael Conforto, but he too has struggled at times.  But the way in which the organization has handled and treated 2013 first-round pick Dominic Smith has been awful.

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Dominic Smith looks like he may be the latest Mets top prospect to prove to be a bust in the majors.  Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill.

While Smith certainly hasn’t done himself any favors with the multiple opportunities he’s been given over the last calendar year, the Mets have put him in positions to fail and haven’t done a good job in attempting to help him.  Smith arrived to spring training overweight in 2017.  However, he was very productive in Triple-A Las Vegas that season, and, like Rosario that year, seemed to have nothing left to learn at that level.  But the Mets didn’t call him up until mid-August.  An argument can be made that Smith’s development was stalled because everything left for him to learn could only be learned in the major leagues.  When Smith finally got called up to the majors, he struggled mightily, albeit while also showing flashes of power.  He finished the year batting .198 with nine homers in 167 at-bats, with 49 strikeouts.

Aiming to improve himself, Smith lost 30 pounds last off-season.  When the Mets signed a washed-up Adrian Gonzalez, they said he would likely be the opening day first baseman rather than make it a competition between the aging veteran and the struggling youngster.  He again lost the Mets’ trust when he overslept and arrived late for a team meeting at the beginning of spring training, resulting in him getting benched.  After just one spring training game Smith injured his quad, resulting in him losing any chance he had on making the team’s opening day roster.

When Smith completed his rehab for the quad injury, the Mets decided to have him focus on learning on a new position by placing him in the outfield during minor league games.  Based on his struggles in the majors in 2017, the organization probably should have worked with him more on improving his hitting than teaching him how to play the outfield.

The Mets didn’t do Smith any favors by repeatedly calling him up and sending him down, with much of his time in the majors being spent on the bench.  Of the 17 games Smith’s started for the Mets, six of them were in the outfield, where he looks absolutely lost, bringing back memories of when the organization placed Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda in the outfield.  But unlike when Duda and Murphy played the outfield, Smith is playing in the outfield at a time when the team doesn’t really have an actual first baseman.  Utility infielder Wilmer Flores has seen the majority of the time at first base since the release of Adrian Gonzalez.  For over a year the team has talked about having Flores see some time in the outfield in order to improve his versatility and balance out an outfield mostly made up of left-handed hitters.  But this plan has yet to come to fruition, and the result is a defensive liability playing first base over a defensively solid first baseman, with the latter player being dropped into the outfield where his inexperience is very visible.

By moving Smith out of his comfort zone and through the stories of upper management criticizing him, Smith’s confidence has taken a heavy blow since his call-up to the majors last season.  Even after taking efforts to improve himself, he is still looked down upon by the organization and its fans.  With one month left in a lost season and the first base position in question for next year, Smith should be given the opportunity to start a majority of the Mets’ remaining games at first.  Flores could always be moved to another position.  It may also be beneficial to have Flores see some time in the outfield.  If the Mets don’t intend to call up top first base prospect Peter Alonso, there isn’t a great excuse not to put Smith in the lineup at first base for a majority of the remaining games.

 

Manny and the Mets?

By Ethan Marshall

 

The Mets said they intend to compete in the 2019 season, but they have many holes to fill in order to make that a reality. The first and most crucial step is signing free agent Manny Machado, who, along with Bryce Harper, will be seeking a fortune on the market. While the Mets need Machado, most fans don’t see this becoming a reality due to the team’s unwillingness to spend money.

The previous off-season only fuels Mets fans’ skepticism of the team’s desire to compete being reflected by a willingness to spend on the more talented free agents. The team basically bought from the discount rack, passing on the likes of Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Addison Reed and Tony Watson for cheaper players with lower ceilings like Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas and Anthony Swarzak, who have each been dreadful this season.

Manny Machado would be a great fit for the Mets, but there is doubt the Wilpons would be willing to pay for the 26-year-old free agent. Photo credit: G Fiume/Getty Images.

With Yoenis Cespedes expected to be out for at least the first month of the 2019 season, the Mets are in dire need of a right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup. Machado presents a huge offensive upgrade both offensively and defensively, and he would change the complexion of the lineup. With Amed Rosario failing to show consistency thus far in his big-league career, the Mets shouldn’t be afraid to move him out of the starting shortstop position, possibly shifting him to third base or second base.

If the Mets were to sign Machado, it would likely create a renewal of faith in the organization that’s been lost the last couple years. In addition to showing fans the team is willing to go after the top free agents, it would also show that the team is willing to offer expensive long-term contracts to the right types of players.

But even if the Mets surprise their skeptical fanbase and sign Machado, they still have other improvements to make. They need to sign two or three solid relievers in a free agent market that will be loaded with them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they need to go after Craig Kimbrel (though that would be nice), but they need relievers with a history of success rather than one coming off one great year, like Swarzak. They should be looking at guys like Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, Justin Wilson, Adam Warren and Kelvin Herrera. Taking gambles on relievers like Jonny Venters shouldn’t be a first priority in a market this loaded.

Even if the Mets were to address those needs, they still have question marks at other positions. Will Todd Frazier be the starting third baseman next season? Is Peter Alonso the 2019 everyday first baseman? Can Amed Rosario shift over to second base if the Mets get Machado, and can he hit with consistency? Should the Mets proceed with the catching tandem of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, or should they look at free agent catchers like Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal? When Cespedes returns, should the Mets consider moving Jay Bruce to first base? Just about the only thing that isn’t a question mark is four-fifths of the starting rotation. In regards to the fifth starter, should the team stick with Jason Vargas despite his brutal 2018 season, go with a young pitcher in the organization like Corey Oswalt or look at the free agent market?

The questions aren’t limited to the players. The team needs to find a new general manager. In addition to seeking to fill the holes on the roster, this new general manager needs to decide the fate of manager Mickey Callaway, who has looked clueless, brutal and completely outmatched in his first season managing the team. Judging by how awful Callaway’s been as a manager, it might be beneficial for the team to get rid of him and try to get someone like Joe Girardi.

The future of the Mets ultimately depends upon the Wilpons’ willingness (or lack thereof) to spend money on top free agent talents, especially in an off-season loaded with top free agents. Signing Machado would signify a culture change in the team by showing the fans they are willing to spend money in order to improve their team. Rarely does the opportunity present itself that a star player becomes a free agent at just 26 years of age. If necessary, the Mets should offer Machado a share of ownership of the team if it means getting him.

Are Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario the Next Wright and Reyes?

By Ethan Marshall

 

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David Wright and Jose Reyes celebrating the Mets division title in 2006.  Photo credit: Ron Antonelli.

The left side of the Mets infield played a big role in making them playoff contenders from 2005 to 2008.  Jose Reyes, nicknamed “Mr. Excitement,” presented a threat to opposing pitchers and catchers every time he got on base.  He provided life at the top of the lineup. So often would he start the first inning with a single and a stolen base or a triple before scoring, that the term “Reyes run” was used to refer to this.  Over this four-year period, Reyes stole a combined 258 bases, leading the league in that category in all but one year, including a franchise-record 78 stolen bases in 2007.  He had no fewer than 190 hits in any of these seasons.  In 2008, he posted a league-best 204 hits.  Reyes also combined for 65 triples, leading the league in that category in three of the four years.

While Reyes provided the speed, Wright provided the power.  He hit 116 home runs and drove in 449 runs over that span.  He finished fourth in MVP-voting in 2007, when he had a 30-30 year, batted .325, slugged .546 and had an OBP of .416.  It became a familiar sight for Mets fans to see David Wright driving in Jose Reyes.  Not since Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s had there been such a talented and admired duo of Mets. The young dynamic duo seemed destined for Hall of Fame careers, but injuries kept sidelining them, likely ruining their chances.

While the two have been reunited as teammates on the Mets, Wright has yet to take the field since Reyes was signed to replace his injured buddy.  Injuries have kept the captain sidelined for over a year, but he recently took a big step forward when he was cleared to resume baseball activities.  Reyes has been vocal of how much he misses Wright, and is optimistic that the captain will play this season.

While Strawberry and Gooden were terrific athletes in their Mets careers, they didn’t get along as well as many people actually believed.  Throughout their baseball careers, David Wright and Jose Reyes have been known to be very close friends.  Reyes often described their bond as similar to that of brothers.

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Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario hanging out together during Spring Training.  Photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

Now, 13 years after Wright and Reyes shared the left side of the infield for the first time, a new young duo has appeared in Queens.  Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, the Mets top two prospects, have now made their MLB debuts.  Their relationship in the minors was very similar to that of Wright’s and Reyes’.  After the game in which Smith made his MLB debut and Rosario hit his first career homer, both players spoke highly of each other and described the bond they shared as akin to that of brothers, just as Wright and Reyes have described their relationship.

Many Mets fans have already expressed that the new duo reminds them in both skills and personalities of those of Wright and Reyes.  Like Reyes at his age, Rosario is a speedy shortstop with strong defensive skills and the potential to be a great hitter.  Reyes has even become a mentor to Rosario since Spring Training, texting him almost every day.  Since Rosario’s promotion to the Mets, he and Reyes are often spotted fooling around and having fun together.  They both have a youthful and bubbly personality, making them likable in the clubhouse.

While Dominic Smith doesn’t play the same position as Wright, he has shown the same defensive ability as a young Wright.  Perhaps the biggest similarity between the two is their ability to use the whole field effectively.  Smith has shown strong opposite-field power in AAA Vegas this season, something Wright made a career doing (until Citi Field opened, designed basically against him with a deep rightfield).  Both Smith and Wright showed a strong maturity despite their young ages.  Perhaps Wright can become a mentor to Smith in the same way Reyes has for Rosario.

Whether or not Rosario and Smith can be as successful as Wright and Reyes, while also avoiding the constant injuries that slowed down the latter two, has yet to be seen.  They haven’t played a month in the big leagues, but the hype surrounding them is very similar to when Reyes and Wright were top prospects.  Time will tell whether or not they live up to the expectations presented to them.