Was it the big ballpark in Savannah that diminished his power output? Was it a change in his approach at the plate?
In a telephone interview with Smith last week, he said it was a little bit of both, but the lack of home runs and the factors that led to the low total actually made him a better overall hitter.
He discussed his offseason plans, what he learned in his recent assignment at instructional camp and how Brandon Nimmo is trying to help him as he moves up in the organization.
Robert Brender: You recently purchased a house in Port St. Lucie. Are you able to go to the facility and train regularly throughout the offseason?
Dominic Smith: Yeah, we actually have our advanced Single-A coach, Ellie [Ryan Ellis] who’s around. Any time we want, he’ll come up there and throw BP. We also have Mike Barwis, who I worked out with last year in Michigan [now overseeing strength and conditioning for the Mets]. They are actually building him a new state of the art facility right behind the stadium (Tradition Field) below ground. It’s a facility that’s going to be up and running and I’m going to work out there. That’s what I’m really excited for.
Brender: There’s a good chance you’ll be on the St. Lucie Mets roster next season, which will be very convenient for you.
Smith: It will be fun every day waking up in my own bed and going and playing baseball, having my family there. It’s going to make my plans a lot easier.
Brender: As you look back at your 2014 season, what are your thought on your performance?
Smith: I feel like this season, for me, was a pretty good year. I was playing in a league where I was one of the youngest players and my experience prior to this year was playing in the Gulf Coast League. I felt like I played pretty well against older guys. The average age in the league was around 22-23. I learned a lot as far as taking care of your body and the speed of the game, how pitchers want to work hitters and my swing. It was more of a learning experience. I’m just looking forward to next year.
Brender: Has the organization been working with you on changing your swing at all since you become a professional?
Smith: They really didn’t have me change too much. They kind of let me do my thing. Whenever they see that I’m doing wrong things, they try to change it and tweak it so I can put up better numbers. At the beginning of the year, it was a little struggle for the first few weeks. You would see me really pulling off, trying to pull the ball and that’s why the second month -- and really the rest of the year -- I really tried to work the opposite field. Pitchers were pounding me away, so I wanted to go the other way instead of pulling off and rolling over.
Brender: I know the ballpark in Savannah is tough on left-handed power hitters. Did you also change your approach because yanking home runs in that park is so tough to do?
Smith: That was part of the reason why I changed my approach. I think that park made me a better hitter, as far as just not thinking about the home run. That’s what a lot of young hitters do when they’re in their first full year or start playing pro ball. They try to impress everybody by putting up these amazing power numbers and I was the same way. My GCL year I tried to hit home runs and this year, in the beginning, I tried to do the same thing, to show everybody I’ve got power and I’m a first baseman with power. At the end of the day, you have to realize there’s more to the game than hitting home runs. I felt like having a big field and knowing that I can’t just yank balls out of there just taught me to use the whole field and use left field, left center and center field. It made me a better hitter.
Brender: How tough was it mentally, however, to look at your stat sheet and not see any home runs for most of the season?
Smith: In the beginning it was kind of difficult. The first month went by and I didn’t hit one, you start pressing and trying to hit one. When you press, that’s all you do, try to hit a home run. There were many at-bats where I tried to hit a home run and it didn’t work out that way. Most home runs come when you relax and put a good swing on the ball. After the first couple of months I stopped caring about home runs and you could see my average started going up and that’s what I really tried to focus on. I tried to focus on trying to get on base, trying to score runs, get RBI’s and just trying to help my team win. It’s a team game at the end of the day and if the team was winning and I was doing things to help them win, that’s all the really mattered.
Brender: You just finished instructional camp. What were they working on with you there?
Smith: We really worked on staying back. That was the biggest thing from last year that I want to improve on; Keeping my front side closed. Also, during games, making sure I swing at good pitches. That’s where I went a little bad this year. I would get to two strikes and it would get in my head ‘don’t strike out, don’t strike out’ and I would end up swinging at a bad pitch, putting it in play but weakly somewhere. I’m learning how to lay off those pitches and staying back better. I’m just excited and anxious about next year.
Brender: Another recent first-round draft pick, Brandon Nimmo, was also at instructional camp getting ready for the Arizona Fall League season. You guys have so much in common. Do you get the chance to speak often?
Smith: We talk a little bit. We don’t talk as much as I think we should. If anything, he gives me a little bit of insight and help as far as what to expect at higher levels. He tells me how pitchers work him at the higher levels and how the game changes.