Dominic Smith’s slimmed-down physique is going to be especially helpful these days now that the Mets are using him to patrol rightfield at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Smith had played first base exclusively since being drafted by the Mets in 2013. But with Juan Lagares (toe surgery) likely done for the season and the team’s paper-thin outfield depth, the Mets decided this week to try Smith in right, where he made his debut Saturday night for the 51s and threw out a runner at second.
“When Lagares got hurt, we had to start thinking outside the box,” manager Mickey Callaway said before Sunday’s series finale with the D-backs.
Auditioning Smith in the outfield to go along with his first-base duties is just another twist for a player once considered to be a top prospect, but appears to have slipped some, with Double-A slugger Peter Alonso making noise at Binghamton. Smith’s year began by getting scratched from his Grapefruit League debut after showing up late. He then suffered a quad injury the next day, an injury that basically wiped out his spring training.
Since then, the Mets have been using Adrian Gonzalez and Wilmer Flores at first base while Smith has been stuck at Vegas. Callaway said that the plan is to play Smith in rightfield about two times a week, which makes this more than an experiment. Offensively, he’s batting .276 with an .800 OPS and two homers in 36 games.
On Sunday, Smith was back at first base for Vegas, but his rightfield tryout illustrates just how desperate the Mets are for outfielders, having to rely on the versatility of both Flores and Phil Evans as backups while hoping Yoenis Cespedes — currently on the DL — can shake his recurring leg issues once he’s active again. To this point, the Mets have resisted asking Jose Reyes, who played two games in the outfield last season for a total of 6 1⁄3 innings.
Shifting Smith to the outfield also may suggest he’s quickly losing ground on the depth chart to the slugging Alonso, who is off to an impressive start for the Rumble Ponies with a slash line of .345/.475/.634. Alonso, 23, is third in the Eastern League in OPS (1.110), third in homers (11) and second in RBIs (35).
“I knew I had this in me,” Alonso told Newsday’s Tim Healey this week. “Other people may not have seen it. I’m not saying it to be cocky, but I’ve worked tremendously hard at honing my craft, not just as a hitter but as a whole baseball player.”
Alonso will be someone to keep an eye on in the coming weeks, with Smith now being moved around.