John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Amidst the wreckage of Wednesday night's devastating defeat for the Mets, Pete Alonso had a spectacular night in Los Angeles, as his two home runs tied him with Mark McGwire at 19 for the most ever by a rookie before June 1.
Oh by the way, Dom Smith raised his batting average to .370 with a 3-for-5 night in his first start in left field.
Make no mistake, there is no dilemma here, at least as it applies to first base: Alonso is the real thing and should be the Mets' middle-of-the-lineup slugger for the next decade or so. He has a chance, if healthy, to someday surpass Darryl Strawberry as their all-time home run leader.
But there's also no doubt that Smith can hit. What has impressed Mets' people as well as others in baseball is his ability to consistently put together good at-bats despite playing only part-time.
In addition to hitting .370, Smith has an on-base percentage of .469 as well as a .556 slugging percentage. His 64 plate appearances amount to a small sample, but as one scout noted on Thursday:
"I give those numbers a little more weight because his at-bats are so spread out in the role he's in. The truth is you watch him and you see the bat-to-ball skill is above-average. And maybe elite."
That's what the Mets saw when they selected Smith with the 11th pick of the 2013 draft, and they weren't alone. Talent evaluators called him the best pure high school hitter available, and he mostly lived up to that acclaim as he climbed the ladder in the minors.
"Then he fell into the trap of thinking he had to go all-in to hit for power in the big leagues," a second scout told me on Thursday. "That's not who he is. He's not Alonso, and that's ok.
"Everybody wants power at the corner spots, but in today's game, when so many guys are selling out for home runs and striking out a ton, there's value in a guy like Smith who can hit .300, and push .400 on-base because he walks a lot, even if he's only going to hit 15 to 20 home runs."
Smith admits he got caught up in thinking he had to pull the ball for power when the Mets called him up in August of 2017, rather than stick with his all-fields approach that makes him a tough out.
"I did hit more home runs," Smith told reporters in Los Angeles this week, "but I got away from doing what I do best, and it took me awhile to realize that."
Yes, he smacked nine home runs in 167 at-bats during that first stint in the big leagues, but he hit only .198 with a .262 on-base percentage. Then, Smith spent the 2018 season trying to find his identity as a hitter again, averaging only .258 in Triple-A and .224 in 56 games with the Mets, without much power.
Along the way, Smith hurt his cause, first by showing up overweight in the big leagues, then by famously arriving late for the first game of Spring Training last year. He would pull a quad muscle the next day, giving himself no chance of winning the first base job.
At some point, however, in a season going nowhere, it also made no sense that the Mets remained bent on playing Wilmer Flores ahead of him at first base, using Smith in left occasionally to get him some at-bats.
Or at least it didn't seem to make sense. Not that the Mets envisioned Alonso becoming such a force so quickly at first base, but as it turns out, if Smith has a future at Citi Field, it's almost certainly in left field.
Obviously it's complicated with all the outfielders on the roster, including the other converted infielder Jeff McNeil, whose bat has made him indispensable.
While both McNeil and Brandon Nimmo are out with injuries, however, Smith should get starts in left field -- at least against right-handed pitching if the Mets want to get J.D. Davis' bat in there against lefties.
For one thing, they need to find out if he can play a serviceable left field, and perhaps more important, they need to build his trade value. For if he continues to hit, perhaps a contender looking for offense in July would offer the Mets the pitching help they desperately need, especially in the bullpen.
If not, they need to make a decision in the offseason, and either commit regular playing time to Smith or deal him. Not counting whatever the future holds for Yoenis Cespedes, committing to Smith might mean moving McNeil back to the infield, which is complicated in itself with Jed Lowrie under contract next season, and Robinson Cano for four more years.
Whatever they do, it's once again clear that Smith, who turns 24 in June, has a bright future. And the Mets need to take full advantage one way or the other: find him playing time in the outfield, or trade him for pitching.