Probably the most divisive player in the Mets Minor League System, it’s hard to blame most people on that, but it’s a topic we need to discuss. To the Mets, it seems Dominic Smith is the future, but it’s a debate to most if he will be because of a first baseman’s most coveted skill: power. Dominic has been devoid of it, but broke out a bit in Binghamton this past season. Brace yourself, this analysis is a doozy.
L/L, 5’11” 235, 6/15/1995 (21), Drafted 11th Overall in the 2013 Draft from Junipero Serra HS. Signed for 2,600,000.
The consensus top prep hitter in the 2013 Draft, Dominic Smith is true as the billing said, in terms of actual pure hitting. The Mets scouted Dominic heavily as a high school first baseman from an early age and picked him without hesitation. He was teammates with the very talented shortstop, J.P. Crawford, now one of the top consensus prospects in the MLB, who plays for the Philadephia Phillies.
At the time, the 17 year old Smith was said to be one of the best pure hitters in the country, and so far, he really hasn’t lived it down. After signing with the Mets, Dominic headed to Complex League Rookie Ball and beat up the league as one of their younger players with a .287/.384/.407 line in 48 games with 13 extra base hits, and was called up to advanced rookie league and was 4 for 6 with four doubles and two walks. The team was very pleased by this performance and sent him to full season Savannah.
There, Dominic had a lackluster performance for a top prospect, hitting .271/.344/.338, and hitting 28 extra base hits including 26 doubles, a triple, and a homer, which he hit very late in the season. While being younger by the average player by two and a half years, Dominic struggled to hit for much power in the South Atlantic League, while hitting half his games in what was the hardest minor league stadium for offense in the minor leagues. According to some scouts as well, Dominic was really looking for hits and to go all-fields instead of looking for something to put a barrel on and drive. He suffered in power numbers under this approach. The stadium closed down prior to the 2016 season and the Mets A-ball team moved to a more neutral park in Columbia, South Carolina.
However, Smith exploded the next year for a season where he was an all star, and named the Florida State League Offensive Player Of The Year. While he started off slow due to an ankle injury, hitting .157/.213/.171 in his first 17 games before teeing off on the Florida State League, hitting .332/.380/.442 with 32 doubles and 6 homers in his next 99 games. While the home runs still had not begun to manifest to a great degree, it’s important to note that the Florida State League is incredibly hard on hitters, and Dominic was one of the youngest in the league.
Dominic capped this season off by going the Arizona Fall League and doing pretty darn well in 14 games with a .362/.483/.511 slash line with four doubles and a homer. For those who don’t know, the Arizona Fall League is usually a showcase for top prospects after the minor leagues season.
This year, Dominic continued the trend of starting slow, with a .259/.318/.396 in his first 67 games of the year, with four homers, much worse than the first part of the year, but improved the power somewhat. However, after June 24th, Dominic took off, hitting .348/.419/.554 with 10 homers, 16 doubles, and had a BB/K of exact 29 in 63 games. Dominic improved his home run output by 133% as predicted by many while playing in an offensive-neutral league, and being one of the youngest players in the league at 20 years old (turned 21 in mid-June).
Smith is a pure hitter, just straight up pure, he has a fantastic swing, one that he modeled after one of his favorite hitters, Robinson Cano. You can see in the GIF below the similarities between the two swings, and it’s sweet. It took me a long time to find the video comparing these two swings, and it’s really helpful. I hope you guys appreciate this:
While Dominic employed a higher leg kick, they have essentially the same smooth swing, and a similar timing mechanism, except Cano’s bat speed is plus, while Dominic’s is merely above-average. I need to note that while players model swings after others, they won’t necessarily have the same tools. Many kids coming out of the Dominican Republic usually model their swings after stars like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes, but that doesn’t mean they have that same tangibles that made them be the stars they are.
Dominic has worked hard to continue to adhere to contact, but lately he has been more selective and has learned to drive the ball better and hits for more contact. At Double-A, Dominic Smith has posted improved a career-best Strikeout percentage at 13.7%, and improved his walk percentage from the previous year, jumping from 7% to 9.2%. Dominic has been steadily improving on his approach and his power from year to year. Dominic is an excellent run producer too, and often times with men on base, he finds a way to get the runner home, and definitely had plenty of chances to do so with Phillip Evans, the league’s batting champ, and Amed Rosario batting in the same lineup as them.
While Dominic has proven to be a smooth hitter and have a similar swing to Cano, his power as it has been explained is right now a question-mark. As a first base only prospect, Dominic Smith has only shown 24 home runs over 425 games in the minor leagues so far while mostly hitting in the middle of the order since being drafted, and has only hit double digit home runs in a season this past year. That can be a red flag if the player wasn’t younger than the average the same way that Dominic was level to level.
When it comes to actually showing power in batting practice, the reports actually vary between scouts and evaluators, where some state Dom shows plus power (26-34 homers annually) while others state that he has above-average power (18-24). That can be a fundamental difference in offensive effectiveness for a position that isn’t necessarily offensively reliant. I have explained before that raw power usually doesn’t translate or manifest to actual game power automatically, so we’re not sure exactly where Dominic is actually going to end up. I would like to add a cliche in prospects in general, which is that power doesn’t always manifest early with prospects, and often times is the last tool to develop, and with Smith, who is very young, there is still work to do. If he doesn’t develop power, the lazy comparison would be a rich man’s James Loney.
In terms of defensive tools, Dominic is an excellent defender, he just makes everything look pretty smooth. Infielders around the diamond usually love him, because he really just doesn’t miss much when being thrown to, and often times makes his teammates look good on their mistakes. He also just doesn’t miss much that is hit to him either. Though not very important, Smith also has a plus arm, and pitched in high school, hitting up to 92 miles per hour on the gun. As a runner, Dominic is below-average, and may be even slower than that, and was evidently less agile due to some weight issues that have reared their ugly head the last few seasons.
Things to Look Out For Moving Forward:
His weight issues have been evident the past few years, as he was pretty skinny when drafted in 2013, but when he started to play in full season, he started to gain weight, and many were commenting with concerns about it. After the Arizona Fall League, ESPN’s Keith Law, one of Dominic’s avid supporters, called him “sloppy”, citing his weight as a serious issue, and he arrived to 2016’s Spring Training looking even heavier even after working out with Barwis prior to the season. When I saw him on July 30th, 2016, I saw a guy who was very overweight, and I had to even comment on his weight, and state my own concerns as well after reserving judgment.
Apparently he took this very seriously, and has been working out heavily over the break, attending the Barwis training program in Michigan, and then has been working out at home in California under Art Correa. Results have shown that Dominic has dropped 25 pounds and gain some nice muscle in the meantime. This may mean an increase in power and agility moving forward.
Another concern is his work against left handed pitching. While Dominic has been pretty effective against southpaws up to High-A, Smith hit .261/.333/.330 in Double-A, and that may get worse unless his approach changes in 2017. One key positive is that in terms of striking out, there is a 1.4 % difference between lefties and righties, and a 1.9% in walk rate, so the struggle may be overblown.
The last piece is the power, and this is a different argument than before: his placement. Dominic Smith is going to play in Triple-A Vegas, and the Pacific Coast league is notoriously known as a hitter’s league. The dry air between Vegas and many different parks along the Pacific Coast League gives less reinforcement when a ball is hit, making the ball quicker off the bat, and can make a ball that would be a double and turn it into a home run. This is a very different environment to the major leagues and may make it harder to understand how Dom’s power is actually developing. This is something to keep tabs on for any player coming through Vegas.
Nevertheless, Dominic is a very promising bat for the Mets, one that could be something great in the middle of the Mets order. It really depends on the fan on what they’re comfortable with when it comes to a player. Dominic could become a player thats hits 18-24 homers and 35+ doubles and play terrific defense, or he could become a player that hits 12-18 homers with 40+ doubles and terrific defense. If it’s the latter, it may be hard to justify him being a starting first baseman, but me, the Mets, and all fans hope it’s the former. Either way, the truth will come out in the next few years post- Lucas Duda, and if Peter Alonso (previously profiled) isn’t nipping at his heels.
Featured Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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