SAN FRANCISCO — Life scouting amateur baseball players is grueling. From the constant travel to working around Mother Nature’s schedule to the reality that a very small percentage of drafted players ever make it to the majors, area scouts work in virtual anonymity as cogs in baseball’s year-round draft machine.
And then there are days like Saturday, when the Mets beat the Giants, 11-4, that make it all a little more worthwhile.
As Dominic Smith went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs and Jeff McNeil had another multihit game with a homer, their once-upon-a-time signing scout, Drew Toussaint, proudly tracked the game on his phone from the other side of the country.
“That’s the whole goal of what we do,” Toussaint, the Mets’ West Coast regional crosschecker, said in a phone interview Saturday night. “We want to draft good players and root for them in the big leagues, when hopefully they’re impacting our big-league team.”
Toussaint joined the Mets in the fall of 2012, tasked with finding and evaluating the best amateurs in and around Los Angeles. His first draft with the team, 2013, included two highlights from his territory: Smith, a first-rounder, and McNeil, a 12th-rounder — two totally different players then and now.
Smith was an obvious stud. They met in 2006, when Smith was an 11-year-old hanging around MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California, and Toussaint was an Angels minor-leaguer. By the time Toussaint got into scouting, just in time for Smith’s senior season, Smith’s strike-zone judgment was obvious and his power was developing.
Watching McNeil at Long Beach State, Toussaint pegged him as something close to what he has become: a versatile defender and top-notch contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much. “He blew past my projections with the bat, but I always thought he’d be impactful on the team because he could play multiple positions and always had a tough at-bat,” Toussaint said, praising McNeil’s intangibles: a catalyst who always ran hard on the field and wasn’t afraid to show emotion in the dugout.
Six years later, Smith and McNeil are much-needed bright spots for the fourth-place Mets (45-53), who snapped the Giants’ winning streak at seven games Saturday.
A day after his missed-catch error in leftfield handed the Giants a win in the 10th inning, Smith provided the Mets’ first two runs. He blasted a 433-foot homer to right-center on the first pitch he saw in the second and added an RBI single in the fourth. Pete Alonso called him “the rebound king.”
“I talked to him before the game, and he wasn’t happy about what happened last night,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “So it looked like to me in that first at-bat, he was going to make up for it. And he did. A great day all around.”
McNeil clanged a two-run shot off the rightfield foul pole in the fifth and insisted in a happy postgame clubhouse that it would have gone into McCovey Cove had its flight been unimpeded. His single in the ninth started a rally and raised his average to .345, highest in the majors.
Rookie righthander Walker Lockett allowed one run in five innings for his first big-league win. The Mets got to Jeff Samardzija for four runs in five innings and blew it open with Todd Frazier’s solo shot in the sixth, followed by Alonso’s pinch-hit three-run homer.
As the Mets punctuated the win with three runs in the ninth, Smith smoked a single to left to drive in McNeil and Robinson Cano. His four RBIs matched the career high he set Wednesday in Minnesota.
Toussaint watched only when he pulled up a live stream on his phone between innings of the Cape Cod Baseball League game he was scouting.
The 2020 draft is less than 11 months away, after all. The next Smiths and McNeils — and Alonsos and so on — are out there.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a World Series,” Toussaint said. “Every day, you’re looking for players who can help the organization. It never stops.”