How and Why Dominic Smith Became a Left Fielder
Last night, Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario collided in the outfield leading to a ball dropping and the go-ahead run scoring. When a gaffe like this happens, many are sent looking to pin blame. As has often happens since he was first called up to the majors, Smith was an easy target.
Before looking to levy the blame on him, it is important to review just how Smith became a left fielder.
Back in 2011, the now defunct Sandy Alderson regime made Brandon Nimmo their first ever draft pick. Since that time, the Mets have drafted and signed just 27 outfield prospects.
The breakdown goes: 2011 (six), 2012 (none), 2013 (three), 2014 (five), 2015 (three), 2016 (three), 2017 (four), 2018 (three).
Putting aside Nimmo and Michael Conforto, the outfielders the Mets have drafted since 2011 have played a combined 35 games at the Major League level.
Currently, the Las Vegas roster only has one outfielder drafted from the aforementioned draft classes on their roster – Kaczmarski. Kaczmarski is currently battling for playing time with players like Zach Borenstein, Bryce Brentz, Matt den Dekker, and Patrick Kivlehan.
Binghamton had Tim Tebow playing everyday because there really wasn’t a Mets draftee pushing him out of the lineup.
Champ Stuart, the Mets 2013 sixth round pick, is repeating the level, and he is hitting .136/.280/.264. Patrick Biondi, the Mets 2013 ninth round pick, is also repeating the level, and he is hitting .222/.333/.247.
Overall, that’s just three part time outfield draft picks playing in the upper levels of their minor league system. Combine them with Nimmo and Conforto, and that makes just five outfield draft picks playing in Double-A or high from the past eight drafts.
Given how much the Mets drafts have not provided much in terms of outfield depth, the Mets were faced with calling up a Major League has been or never was or to give the shot to Smith. Given how Peter Alonso was nipping at Smith’s heels from Double-A, learning another position did make some sense.
Believe it or not, Smith in the outfield was not as absurd a proposition as it may sound. He entered the year leaner and faster. As noted by Baseball Savant, his sprint speed is better Jose Bautista and Jay Bruce, two players the Mets have felt eminently comfortable in the outfield. When he was drafted, Baseball America noted Smith had a strong arm and was a “fringy defender with below-average speed” in the outfield.
Still, the Mets were forced into that position because of how they handled Smith.
After he struggled last year, they were wise to bring in competition for him in Spring Training in the form of Adrian Gonzalez. Partially due to Smith’s injury in Spring Training, Gonzalez did win the job. However, he played poorly.
In 21 April games, Gonzalez hit .227/.312/.394. After going 3-for-4 with two solo homers in a game at Cincinnati, Gonzalez returned to form hitting just .267/.323/.350 over his next 20 games leading to his eventual release.
With the way Gonzalez was playing, there was a real chance to call-up Smith and give him a shot. The Mets passed, and they instead decided to stick with a guy who was not producing.
When the Mets finally released Gonzalez, they gave Smith three games to prove he could produce at the Major League level. In those three games, he went 4-for-12 with a double, homer, and an RBI. After that three game stretch, Wilmer Flores came off the disabled list, and he was given the first base job.
With Flores being bestowed the first base job, Smith’s great experiment in the outfield truly began. With Smith not playing well in the outfield, he found himself on the bench, and eventually, he would head back to Triple-A. When he was sent back to Triple-A, he was entrenched as the left fielder because Alonso had been called up and given the first base job.
In the end, you have a former first round draft pick and former Top 100 prospect playing out of position because the Mets have failed to give Smith a chance, the team has failed to develop outfield prospects at the upper levels of their minor league system, and the team is more willing to give failing veterans a chance over a younger player who could improve with Major League coaching and playing time.
Overall, that is how you get a promising prospect in the outfield, and that is how you have two young players colliding in the outfield and costing the Mets a game.