New York Mets first baseman Dominic Smith controls his own destiny. Can he execute enough this spring to fend off Adrian Gonzalez?
Last Friday, New York Mets first baseman Dominic Smith was forced to watch from the dugout as his counterpart, Adrián González, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Last season, the starting job seemed like Smith’s to lose. But after a tumultuous start to a promising career, that job is in jeopardy.
The Mets signed González last month as insurance in the event that Smith’s struggles persist. While Smith can’t control González’s play, he can control his own. And if the rookie plays well enough in Spring Training, he could reclaim the starting job. The ball is in his court.
Smith has 167 career at-bats in the major leagues, and the numbers aren’t pretty. He has a .198 batting average with nine home runs and 26 RBI. Last season, Smith struggled with his fundamentals. He was slow around first base and grounded into too many double plays. He gained back some of the weight which he had worked so hard to shed during the offseason.
Once a first-round pick, Smith didn’t live up to expectations. Granted, it was just one year — one of, if things go right for him, many. But his struggles were concerning nonetheless — something Smith himself acknowledged. “They drafted me in the first round [in 2013] so they expect me to be a first-round type of player,” Smith said, via Marc Carig of Newsday.
“They expected me to be a star in New York City. Of course, I didn’t live up to those expectations. I’m not going to take that and be upset about that. I know my capabilities, I know what I’m able to do, and I’m just going to put it all together and show the world.”
Smith will have to compete with González, who was once one of the premier first basemen in the league, a franchise cornerstone for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now 35, González is a fraction of the player he once was. Signed to the major league minimum, the Mets will be satisfied if González hits .250 with a couple of homers.
That’s a far cry from Smith’s potential as a top corner infielder. The 22-year-old has made 49 big league appearances, all with the Mets, who drafted him with their first pick in 2013. Concerns about his weight and fundamentals have subverted an otherwise promising body of work — a smooth, natural swing; soft hands that allow him to pick balls out of the dirt; a feel for the barrel; and a direct bat path.
Smith, as a first baseman, does not exhibit the traits of an Albert Pujols or a Joey Votto. But that’s okay; the Mets just need him to be a Dominic Smith. If he can get his act together, and perform like he did in the minor leagues, Smith can take back the starting job.
If it were only that simple.
Rookies have had a long history of allowing their struggles to define them. If a younger player gets into a slump, it can often take months, if not years, to overcome fragile self-confidence. For Smith, who has been one of the best in his age group for so much of his life, this could be his fate. “When you start struggling, you doubt yourself a little bit,” Jason Marquis told the Associated Press (via the Los Angeles Times) in 2005. “That’s not a good thing.”
Smith has had an undesirable offseason — he was benched after arriving late to camp, injured his right quadriceps running the bases, and had the starting job stripped from him. Speaking to reporters, Mets rookie manager Mickey Callaway had this to say about Smith’s tardiness: “It’s a little shocking. He’s trying to win a job.”
Still, the ball is in Smith’s court. Despite the early mishaps, Smith lost 35 pounds this winter and worked on his mechanics. He knows what’s at stake, and has been preparing accordingly. Now, the hard part: Executing.