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.
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.