Dominic Smith: Future Star or Potential Bust?

Reality is he will probably end up something between those two. For sake of fun, let's look at the possibilities for either extreme and what could lead someone to believe he will end up a superstar in baseball or, conversely, a complete bust.

For those unfamiliar, Dominic Smith is a first base prospect in the Mets system. He was drafted out of high school in Southern California as a pure 1st baseman in 2013 and after a short stint in short season ball, got a 2014 assignment to Savannah. This year he has played for St. Lucie and has done well, especially after a slow start. You can see his player stats below:

Statistically, Dominic Smith has the profile of a good average/contact hitter with gap/doubles power and a good eye. Recently, Dominic Smith has gotten some attention from prospect experts doing their top mid-season lists.

John Sickels reported that Smith would rank somewhere around the 100-120 top prospect range and Keith Law, in a bit of a surprise, ranked Smith the 40th best prospect in all of baseball at this point, noting that the HR power will come and he already owns an elite glove and a plus hit tool. While Law warns about his weight (in his prospect chat you can read here), he asserts that "the power is there".

Other gurus are split on him. Bloggers are split on him. Here is the main debate:

Pro: Dominic Smith is an elite defender with a plus hit tool. The HR power will come and he will be an All-Star first baseman.

Con: First baseman need to hit homers. Smith does not hit homers.

If we take these viewpoints to the extreme, you could see how one path leads you to penciling Smith in as a middle-order star hitter who complements his prowess at the plate with Rico Brogna level defense at first with the best 1B arm in baseball.

You can also see how the other would look at eight career home runs in 1000+ minor league plate appearances and opine that a team already starved for offense and home run power cannot survive with a first baseman who hits home runs at the same rate as Juan Lagares.

I see both viewpoints. Simply put, Dominic Smith needs to hit more homers if he wants to be the first baseman of the future for the Mets ball club. In the past ten years, 240 first baseman seasons or part time first baseman seasons (qualified PA) have been logged. Only 16 of those seasons saw home run totals in the single digits and the peak WAR of those seasons was a meddling 1.7 by Joe Mauer last year:

It is not a very pretty list. Many of these seasons are split with other positions (DH, OF) but it does not change the poor value these players accumulated while logging major time at first base. A whopping 6 out of 16 of these seasons were below replacement level, five were between replacement level and 1.0 WAR and only five were above 1.0 WAR. None reached the 2 WAR mark.

Yes, defensive metrics for first baseman are still fickle but first base is also an offensive position. Home runs do not have nearly the same correlation to offensive value as other important statistics like on-base percentage, slugging percentage, or weighted stats like wRC+ or wOBA but there is correlation between value for a first baseman and how many home runs they hit. For contrast, the worst WAR mark for the top 16 home run seasons by a 1B in the past 10 years is 2.9 by Ryan Howard in 2008. Second worst is also Howard's at 3.1 in 2007 and after that, each of the other 14 in the top 16 accumulated more than 4.3 WAR.

The question with Dominic Smith is, "Will the power come"?

Some believe it is already there. Consider these points:

- Smith has hit an absurd number of doubles. 66 in 255 games, to be precise. That comes out to 52 over 162 games. The Mets all time record is 44 by Bernard Gilkey in 1996.

- Smith played half of his professional games in Savannah and the SALLY, a stadium and league notorious for sucking power away from mashers, especially left-handed hitters (humidity, big parks, tough wind patterns. Talk to anyone who has played or watched games regularly in Savannah and they will tell you how difficult it is hitting there and especially so as a LHH). Smith hit one home runs there. In the 129 games outside that league and stadium, he has hit seven. No, that is still not a lot, but his Savannah numbers drag everything down.

- St. Lucie is also a pitcher's league. Keith Law suggested that a promotion to double-A would result in more homers by Dominic Smith. Despite the better competition, Law might be right. It is easier to hit home runs in the Eastern League than the Florida State League.

- Dominic Smith is very young and power is typically the last tool to develop. We forget that Dominic Smith is still just 20 years old. He is the age of a college junior and he is gunning for a promotion to Double-A already. He could make the big leagues by the time he is 21 when most college draftees are still adjusting to wood bats. Power takes time to get there. Adrian Gonzalez, the player I think best represents Dominic Smith's absolute ceiling as a player, hit zero home runs in his first 265 plate appearances as a professional. Gonzalez, also a teenager drafted out of high school in California, followed that up with back-to-back solid but unspectacular 17 homer seasons then regressed to five total home runs as a 21-year-old in double-A and triple-A. No, Smith has not had that 17 home run season yet but the point is that power takes time to develop, especially for young hitters. Adrian Gonzalez had a swing scouts drooled over. So does Smith. Watch his swing and tell me he won't develop some serious home run power.

To conclude, I am on the "wait and see" camp when it comes to Dominic Smith. I love his defense, I love his swing and I love his advanced approach at the plate for such a young player. The Mets also have the luxury of time with him. While they may want to extend Lucas Duda, they do not have to just yet. They still have a couple years of arbitration with Lucas to figure out what Smith is as a hitter (and what Lucas Duda is as a hitter for that matter). Personally, I think Smith has a chance to be a special player. However, if he never grows into that home run power, he will not be able to survive as a major league first baseman, even if the glove is elite. Some people think he could become an outfielder but given his size and recent weight gain, I am not sure that is an experiment worth taking, even though he does possess a 70 throwing arm.

If I had to choose one of the above, give me "Future star" 10 out of 10 times. I see much more of that in Smith than I do a bust. The swing is just too good and the rest of his game too polished already for a young player for him not to be good. Don't let the park/league numbers fool you into thinking Smith doesn't have power. He does. It is only a matter of time before his doubles start going over the wall for home runs.



Ernest Dove said...

Not all prospects pan out.......... I think he will pan out........
I wrote about my local (ish) st Lucie Mets again that will post tomorrow. I brought up Dom again.

My eyeball test gives same result. He'll hit in the mlb. He'll play D and scoop bad throws in the dirt in the mlb. God knows whether he hits 10 or 30 homers. But he'll contribute on a team in a positive way and hit middle of the order.

Stephen Guilbert said...

If I were doing a Mets prospect ranking I'd have him right next to Amed Rosario and for the same reasons...both could be all stars for years in the big leagues but both really have to figure some stuff out at the plate before that happens.

Ernest Dove said...

Dom never would have to worry about scooping balls out of dirt from Rosario ;)
Rosario has too strong an arm and too much range to ever be far enough away from a ball for that to happen lol.

Stephen Guilbert said...

I could always just wait until your post tomorrow but I'm wondering your take on Rosario's defensive ability in relation to other top/fringe top prospects. Keith Law just said Rosario isn't as good defensively as Raul Mondesi Jr. and I disagree with him. Has Rosario slowed down at all as he's gotten bigger? When I saw him at ST he looked ridiculously smooth in the field.

Bob Sugar said...

Can't wait for Dom Smith to be our guy on the big club. Going to be fun to watch a pure hitter that a team won't be able to over shift on.

Don't extend Duda

Thomas Brennan said...

Duda had zero minor league homers at age 20, as he started in the minors at 21. Hit just one every 50 ABs his first 3 years while skipping Savannah. Smith will be a star.

Stephen Guilbert said...

That's a good point, Thomas. I chose Adrian Gonzalez as a comp because of the swing, defense and their similar backgrounds. I thought about Ike Davis, Duda and Loney as comparisons as well and all of them are worth looking at to understand Smith in context. Great point about Duda, though. Power takes time to develop.

I'm excited about Smith. Like I said, given choice between bust or star I'd take star 100% of the time.

Ernest Dove said...

Rosario is in NO WAY a Wilmer Flores here.
He's still thin. He's also still FAST, not only in the field but in general. If he was getting on base more in lucie he woulf probably easily get 30 stolen bases. And more than that, he can go first to third and 2nd to home.
Before I got to see him LIVE, I looked at 'stats' and worried about his errors. Then I saw him in action.
He gets to everything. He has a Wilmer type arm but its accurate. I watched oberste kinda botch an easy double play, but Rosario was so damn quick and strong arm that they still almost turned it anyway.
I know the guys announcing the future stars game were getting their jollys talking about mondesi jr. Im sure he's wonderful.
But I've been saying same thjng on this site since first seeing Rosario LIVE...... I consider Rosario just as untouchable in trade as thor, matz and Conforto. TThey're all obviously different in many ways, but I'd take my chances on waiting 2-3 years with Rosario and trade off the younger kid SS prospects as needes right now.

I mean, would u trade a 19 yr old anderlton simmons ?

Thomas Brennan said...

Boy, Ernest, that is great to hear about Rosario. Certainly sou 's like he'll have a real shot at being the Mets SS for many years starting perhaps around m7d 2017 or early 2018.

Thomas Brennan said...

Cyclones on TV SNY), BTW. Blackham looks great. Six Ks in first 3 innings, 36 in 26 innings so far this year. 94 MPH heater.

The Closer said...

Btw, I know we talk of Dom Smith being an elite defender but he made his 9th error of the season, which is quite a bit for a 1B. I can't fall if they are predominantly throwing or fielding, but I've heard a lot of great things in regard to his defense, so I'm a bit surprised.

The comp I've always seen with Dom Smith was James Loney, but I'm hoping to see .275/20/80, with some actual error saving defense from our infielders at 1B vs what we see from Duda on a regular basis.

Duda is pretty rough to watch trying to pick a ball, stretch for a throw of even tag the runner on a pick off. Don't we have one of the best fielding 1B in the history of baseball in the press box. Remember when Keith was getting a lot of credit for Duda's hitting and then all of a sudden he forgot how to hit for 6 + weeks?! Maybe they should have had a different conversation surrounding defense instead since that talk didn't work.

Stephen Guilbert said...


Would you be surprised if I told you that Lucas Duda has dealt with over 20% more bad throws from his infielders than the next highest 1B but has converted 79% of those "scoop" chances, a mark that is better than league average?

Thomas Brennan said...

Speaking of Keith, Keith Hernandez made 11 errors at 1B in 82 minor league games at 1B when he was 20 (actually, he played that season 8 months older than Smith is playing this one). He turned out all right. Smith will be great with the glove, IMO,A hopefully another Keith Hernandez.

Now there is a comp for you...maybe Smith is the next Keith - both offensively and defensively? Why not? I'd take that :)

Robb said...

Dom Smith reminds me of eric hosmer. A high average, teens hr guy who in prime years will hit in the 20s and play great d. He is only 20. Just for reference miguel cabrera hit 9 hr in the Florida St league in basically 130 games. and smith is at 4 in 80.

The Closer said...

Neither one is a surprise actuslly. Duda picks balls that don't need to be picked whereas as other 1B actually stretch and catch on a fly.

Stats are important, but I'm a big eye test guy since just because he picks the ball doesn't mean it needed to be picked. To me, his scoop rate "appears" to be closer to 20% on the real in between throws but balls that he doesn't stretch for and end up bouncing need his feet that he simple bends down to one hop don't count.

I played SS through college and coached high school baseball, so I'm paying my attention to the specifics and while those stats don't surprise me, Duda's eye test fails for me for sure.

You can deal with it if he's the Duda from last year, but the Duda from the last 6 weeks starts to show his all around warts even more and when you watch guys like Tex, Olerud, Loney and even Keith, you can see where a solid defensive 1B makes a huge difference on your infield defense and my hopes are the Smith becomes that guy down the road.

1973 Mets said...

Before you get too giddy about Dominic Smith, take a look at his stats at the same age when compared to Milner, Fernando Martinez and Lastings Milledge. Note the OBP and slugging percentage. Remember that Smith was paid $1.3 million as a bonus and a team usually hopes a guy rises faster through the system when paid that kind of moolah. Alderson's history with first rounders at San Diego wasn't all that great. Didn't he amass quite a few with none being top players? Here's a comparison of Smith to the other players during their minor league years:


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