Mets 1B Dominic Smith is finally seeing results at the plate after making a concerted effort to be more aggressive early in the count.
"Dom is putting good swings on the ball," Mets manager Mickey Callaway acknowledged this past weekend. "He's confident. He's going up there and he's attacking the ball. The last time he was here, he looked a little passive and not quite sure (of himself). Right now, he's taking the barrel to the ball and he's having good results."
Since returning to the Mets after a brief demotion to Triple-A, Smith has three hits, two for extra bases, in 10 plate appearances, during which he has struck out twice and walked once.
"I came up in my career being a patient hitter," he explained, according to Newsday. However, he continued, "I got up here and realized sometimes the best pitch is the first one you get."
According to Smith, he's working to treat each pitch of every at bat as its own isolated moment so that he can be ready, aggressive and on time no matter the count.
As an example, since rejoining the Mets in September, all three of Smith's hits have occurred during the first three pitches of their respective at bats.
"I fell behind early and I would chase and chase," he said about his stint with the team earlier this season. "If I'm able to just swing at good pitches, good things will happen."
Smith said he's realizing that it's better to be aggressive and take control early, because it will likely mean being in a hitter's count later in the at bat, at which point he can return to being selective as the opposing pitcher must be more precise.
If you're rolling your eyes, it's because this is basically Hitting 101. It may seem silly that Smith is only just now coming to this realization. However, he's always been a very patient, very selective hitter. And so, when facing inferior pitching during his rise through the minor leagues, it makes sense that he was able to play each at bat on his heels and take extra time to find a pitch to hit.
In the big leagues, however, where he's facing the most talented pitchers in the world, this laid-back approach was eating him up. This adjustment is common, more or less one that every young hitter must go through. I think the difference here is that Smith is simply saying out loud and so it reads and sounds more obvious than it should be...
In either case, I'm just glad he's understanding what is needed of him to be a successful hitter. The thing is, is too little too late...
In less than one year, Smith has gone from being considered the organization's second-best prospect behind Amed Rosario to being a young man out of favor and without a position.
Sep 10, 2017; Smith is congratulated by shortstop Rosario after hitting a HR. Credit: Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Prior to his big-league debut last summer, MLB.com ranked him the top first base prospect in baseball, a ranking that now belongs to Smith's Triple-A teammate 1B Peter Alonso, who is also now considered organization's second-best overall prospect.
To make matters worse, Smith's 2018 started by being called out publicly by Callaway when the young first baseman showed up late to a meeting at the start of spring training. He then missed the remaining four weeks of camp with a quadriceps injury.
As a result, Smith returned to Triple-A, where he eventually lost playing time to Alonso, who is actually the older of the two first basemen. To make matters worse for Smith, while he was nursing an injury, searching for his swing and getting called up and demoted by the Mets, Alonso hit an impressive 36 home runs and made a name for himself across baseball.
The entire narrative must have been a massive disappointment for Smith, who spent the previous winter reworking his diet to lose weight after being called out publicly by Sandy Alderson.
Smith later told reporters he had no issue with Alderson's comments, which were also relayed to him by Alderson in a meeting toward the end of this past season.
"I'm not taking anything for granted," he said on SNY's Mets Hot Stove. "I know I didn't perform how I'd like and I'm definitely going to work my butt off."
Inspired by Alderson's remarks, Smith lost more than 30 pounds, entering camp around 230 pounds. He kept most of the weight off during the season.
In the past year, Smith has been promoted and demoted three different times, during which he has never established himself as a hitter or fielder.
In a total 85 career games with the Mets, spanning 273 plate appearances, he's hit just .202 with 12 HR, 13 doubles and 30 RBI, while playing first base and most recently left field.
"My expectations coming into 2018, what I wanted to accomplish this year, are definitely different than what happened," Smith acknowledged to reporters last week. "For me to go through this rough patch, it's probably the first time I've ever really struggled in my life.''
He can't turn back time. And, regardless of how Smith hits the next few weeks, Alonso's power is undeniable and has to be looked at against big-league pitching next season. It's always possible Alonso is exposed next summer as a one-trick hitter incapable of playing the field and needing to be dealt to the American League where he can DH. However, most scouts I've talked with think his power and personality will justify any struggles he initially has in the field, most of which can be corrected as he gets used to the speed of the big-league game.
In that case, given that Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Wilmer Flores can all play first base, and are all likely to be on next year's roster, Smith will need to do more than just hit .300 between now and the end of this season to crack his way back in to the team's lineup.
It'll be no easier for him trying to find a home in the team's big-league outfield, as well. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo have already earned two of three starting spots and Yoenis Cespedes will get the final slot when he returns from the disabled list mid summer.
Instead, for Smith, the more likely outcome in 2019 continues to be a return to Triple-A or becoming a fill-in, bench player, waiting and hoping for another opportunity to prove himself. Or, perhaps his current hitting continues, he helps to increase his trade value and the Mets can deal him this winter in trade that helps improve a weakness on the roster.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!