Just talking to Dominic Smith for a few minutes and it’s clear that he still has a lot to prove.
The up-and-coming Mets star was a top-10 hitter in the National League last season, showing the promise that was originally advertised when he was a top prospect in the team’s farm system four years ago.
But with Pete Alonso cemented at first base as long as the National League doesn’t have the designated hitter, that means Smith will have to carve playing time in left field where the work in progress continues.
“People forget I got thrown in left field in the big leagues,” Smith said. “It’s a learning curve, it’s a learning process. I feel like I’m taking that process and getting better and better. I know I can do it… I’m competitive and believe in my ability.”
Granted, Smith doesn’t seem all too enthused about the DH eventually making its way to the NL, even if that means getting him more reps at first base.
“We know how to prepare and play every day in a National League game,” he said. “I’m not worried about if we have a DH or don’t. I think the DH is good for off days, that’s the only time I think it’s good for… We don’t care if we have it or not.”
Smith has only played 68 games — all in the big leagues — in left field and the numbers aren’t great. A .951 fielding percentage features four errors with a minus-7 defensive runs saved (DRS) mark.
But for now, it’s the only spot where the Mets can fit Smith to ensure he gets a suitable number of at-bats following a 2020 season in which he hit .316 with a .993 OPS with 10 home runs and 42 RBI. That’s a full season average of 27 home runs and 113 RBI in 135 games.
It might put the 25-year-old in an unfair spot having to learn a new position that is the polar opposite of his natural first base on the fly in the majors, but Smith isn’t making any excuses.
“It just comes with the territory,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not. I’m a professional ballplayer. I’m paid to play and perform at the highest level. I know personally, I haven’t played a lot out there so I know I’m way more capable out there than I’ve shown.
“When I get more reps and start making more plays, that skepticism will kind of dissolve… I know what I’m capable of doing, it’s just a matter of me showing it.”
Mets manager Luis Rojas, however, wasn’t ready to confirm that Smith would be the go-to guy in left field, even if it is a well-known secret.
“Dom in left, Dom playing first, playing both of those positions he’s played in the last couple of years to get him in the mix of the starting lineup,” Rojas said. “We are having him spend more time in the outfield because that’s the position he’s played least in his career.”
Smith said the best way to get acclimated to life in left is live-game experience, which has been hard to come by in an offseason that has prioritized social distancing and staying home. So Smith is trying to make the best out of the next best thing before spring training games start up.
“I think live jumps in BP help,” he said. “Batting practice is the best thing you can do in the outfield to get game-like reads… Guys are hitting it really hard. The fact you can get those reads, see how it’s spinning… that’s the best way to simulate in-game reps.”