It’s really not even close; looking back through a few years of notes and an ever-expanding video database, I haven’t found another prospect with nearly as mature an offensive profile as the Mets’ first baseman of the future, let alone a guy that is dominating Triple-A at 22 years old like Smith right now. Now, having watched another dozen of his plate appearances when the first baseman’s Las Vegas 51s were on the road at Greater Nevada Field against the Reno Aces last week, it becomes ever more clear: Dominic Smith will win a big league batting title one day.
The (vast) majority of prospect attention focused on the New York Mets right now centers on shortstop Amed Rosario, Smith’s teammate and close friend. There’s good reason for that, because Rosario is himself a stud who should become a very good everyday shortstop and will, upon his call-up, immediately become the Mets’ best infield defender while also showing off great contact skills at the plate. But that leaves the big first baseman relatively lost in the shuffle as the Mets’ call-up watch circles Rosario day in and day out. This is unfortunate, because Dominic Smith has the offensive approach to be a legitimate big league star.
I keep going back to a weird moment that I’m sure Smith has long forgotten about. In a late April series against Albuquerque, the lefty mis-hit a ball, and it spun like mad until it landed quite literally right on the front of home plate. Ryan Hanigan, the Colorado Rockies‘ catcher playing with the Isotopes at the time, picked up the ball, tagged Smith out, and moved on. Smith gave a glance at the umpire—not to protest a potential foul ball, but as if to say really? How did that even happen? Then he turned around, walked back to the dugout, and moved on, too. No drama, no worries, no whining. Just a quiet, professional understanding that he couldn’t do anything about that and would be better served to focus on the next at-bat.
That’s a really minor (and maybe sort of stupid) anecdote, but it’s indicative of the type of baseball player Dominic Smith is, and the type of big leaguer he will become. Read our interview with him from back in late April, and you’ll see; he’s unbelievably calm and well-adjusted considering his age and level, and that has allowed him to be almost surgical in moving along the player development path, methodically picking up major tools and skills year-to-year as he faces better and better pitching. He talks like a 35-year-old big league veteran of a few thousand games, not a 21-year-old kid who hasn’t made it yet. And he has an approach at the plate that matches up perfectly with his on-field personality and style of play.
To talk about what Dominic Smith will become, maybe it’s instructive to first discuss what he won’t be. Dominic Smith will never be a burner on the bases, as you can probably tell by looking at him. He’ll never be a svelte, ripped ballplayer built like a linebacker, or a shooting guard, or anything even close to either of those things. To his credit he’s shown the desire and ability to improve his physical stature, but Smith’s genes will have him struggling with weight along the entirety of his time in baseball. So much so, in fact, that his body type combined with an ability to hit for average should leave the New York Mets prospect open for ample comparisons to a certain Hall of Famer.
One other thing Dominic Smith won’t be, at least in my mind after watching him quite a bit in 2017: Dominic Smith will not be an exceptional power hitter. Don’t get me wrong; he’ll get his fair share of home runs and he’ll hit a decent amount of balls in the gap, but if you’re expecting him to do what his predecessor does, you’re in for a disappointment. Any over-the-fence pop Smith gets will be the product of a good approach, a sweet swing, and some good old-fashioned muscle mass, but his game is predicated on singles, opposite-field hitting, situational understanding, and a knack for finding holes and gaps in the defense again, and again, and again. Smith’s style is boring to watch if you’re tuning in to see bombs, but it’s the most gorgeous thing on the field for those who can appreciate the nuanced chess match that goes on between pitcher and hitter.
In an era where even speedy, smaller hitters are increasingly focusing their careers on an ability to hit the ball in the air, Smith is a classic “professional hitter.” He’s content to take what he’s given in every at-bat. He understands the long game when hitting against the shift, or poking a ground ball single through the middle, or—gasp—moving a runner over from second to third in certain situations. Rather than living as an all-or-nothing power hacker, Smith’s swing can adjust to how he’s being pitched, and the game situation in which he finds himself. The New York Mets ought to be wise in how they develop a roster in light of this, and they’ll certainly need some consistent over-the-fence pop elsewhere on the field. But any lineup with Dominic Smith in it is a lineup that’s going to wear down and frustrate opposing starting pitchers with patience, discipline, and a maddeningly mature approach.
Furthermore, I think he’s uniquely prepared for the everyday grind of a big league season thanks to his very calm approach to the game itself, and to each one of his at-bats in particular. I’ve seen about 40 of his plate appearances in 2017, and I have yet to see him press hard and try to do too much with the bat. His slow heartbeat, his methodical approach to the game, and his calm nature will serve him very, very well when he’s tasked with facing the best pitchers in the world. Don’t expect him to hit forty home runs, and if that’s what you were hoping for, you’re going to be underwhelmed. But give the first baseman a couple years’ adjustment at the game’s highest level, and I wasn’t kidding—he’s going to win a batting title.
The New York Mets have found themselves a mature, nuanced, and well-adjusted professional hitter. If things go as I know they should, Dominic Smith will be in the big leagues for a very, very long time to come.
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