PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Dominic Smith could tell you he is in the best shape of his life, as so many other ballplayers do at this time of year, and it probably would be true. But he knows that doesn’t mean anything unless he performs when it matters.
Before he got his body right during the offseason, the Mets helped Smith do the same with his mind. Last season was the worst of his career, and at the end of it, he wasn’t sure where he stood with the organization. The new Mets regime, led by general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, settled that by telling Smith the team still believes in him.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” said Smith, who got a visit from executive director of player development Jared Banner and visited hitting coach Chili Davis. “To hear that, especially early in the offseason, it helped me get through this offseason and helped me feel more comfortable, relaxed and have fun on an everyday basis. They don’t have to let you know that, but for them to be open with me was awesome.”
With his concerns assuaged, Smith used the Mets’ vote of confidence as a springboard into an intense offseason and strong spring training, including a .400 average and 1.005 OPS as he competes with Pete Alonso for the first-base job.
This might sound familiar. At the start of spring training in 2018, the Smith talk was about how much weight he had lost and how good he felt. A missed morning meeting and a quadriceps strain ended his camp before it really began, setting the stage for his mess of a season.
Smith now realizes that there are different kinds of being in good shape. A year ago, he indeed was slim and feeling good and athletic, but something was missing. His strength disappeared with the weight. That showed in the numbers, too, with Smith posting a .380 slugging percentage in the hitter-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League, well below his .519 mark the previous season. He slugged .420 in the majors.
Being weak, relative to his norm, also contributed to the leg issues that cost him last spring training and plagued him all season, he said.
“At the time, I thought it was good,” Smith said. “I felt good. I felt great. I felt athletic. I felt slim. I felt I could move on the field well, and I felt like I didn’t lose power. My swing was still there. But the results weren’t there.“
[When] I got to the big leagues again [last] year, I started paying attention to the best players. The best players are really, really good athletes. They’re very strong and they’re put together well. I told myself this offseason, I want to get as strong as I can. I started bench-pressing and doing a lot of football stuff to get my chest bigger, my arms bigger, my legs.”
Hence, a new approach this past winter.
Smith spent the offseason working with personal trainer Art Correa and several other Los Angeles-area players, sticking to a doozy of a two-workouts-per-day, five-days-weekly schedule. Stretch, agility drills, lift. Play catch, hit, take ground balls. Lunch. Shower. Nap. Core work, yoga, flexibility.
“Yoga is a workout in itself,” Smith said with a laugh. “Doing yoga is harder than just regular working out, lifting weights.”
The Mets don’t know who their first baseman will be. They have said it’s possible that they’ll carry Smith and Alonso.
Smith’s prospect shine has worn off, but he is six months younger than Alonso and much stronger defensively (albeit with a lesser degree of raw power at the plate).
Wherever Smith ends up — majors or minors, Mets or somewhere else — he says, “This year should be a lot more like the old Dominic Smith,” legs healthy and power again included.
It’s easy to feel good in March, but this time is different. And he expects to continue to prove it.
“This year it was like, nah, I’m going to put myself in every position to succeed,” Smith said. “I thought I worked hard before, which I did, but it was time to take it to another level. That’s what I did.”