Here’s a sentence you probably never expected to read: The Mets could be a better team with Dominic Smith playing the outfield.
Just on a part-time basis, the occasional start, as a means of getting his now-dangerous lefty bat into the lineup. And Smith wants to, very badly. The only obstacle? The Mets are not inclined to give him the chance, even with Pete Alonso stonewalling Smith at first base.
In fact, Smith has asked repeatedly, since spring training, to get some reps in the outfield, most recently when he was sent down to Triple-A Syracuse last week. But the Mets haven’t wavered. Not before games either.
“I tried to, they won’t let me,” Smith said. “They told me, stay far away from the outfield.”
Just to be clear, Smith laughed good-naturedly when asked about the subject. His intention is to help in whatever way possible, and if the Mets don’t see an expanded role for him right now, then Smith is fine with that. But since it’s our job to keep pushing anyway, we asked Smith what the team’s official response was.
“They said I’m too valuable at first base,” Smith said, “and it would be a disservice to me by putting me in the outfield.”
As opposed to last season, when the Mets chose to bump Smith to the outfield — for the first time since high school — so that Wilmer Flores (non-tendered before becoming a Diamondback) could be the everyday starter at first base. Obviously that was Sandy Alderson — and later his former lieutenants — calling the shots, not Brodie Van Wagenen. But talk about your mixed messages.
As the Mets view their roster now, they already have three lefty-hitting outfielders in the starting lineup, and a pair of righty backups, along with J.D. Davis starting to prepare for some work. They don’t feel any urgency to make Smith another one, or to suddenly put too much on his plate in light of his promising start to the season.
Our view? We like the idea of the all-lefty attack made possible by putting Smith in left and using Jeff McNeil at third base. Particularly now that Jed Lowrie has returned to limbo (and Port St. Lucie) after suffering a Grade 1 hamstring strain. Apparently something has clicked for Smith, who is batting .344 (11-for-32) with a .962 OPS, and he crushed his first homer the previous night as a pinch hitter, launching a 435-foot blast in the 6-2 victory over the Nats.
It’s a small sample size, sure. But listening to Smith, you get the sense he’s more relaxed and more confident, which is reflected in his plate appearances. Next month, Smith turns 24, so this could be a classic case of him finally getting past the growing pains. Also, Smith credited Van Wagenen for his communication efforts early on.
“I feel like early in my career, I gave up a lot of at-bats because I wasn’t locked in,” Smith said. “I was searching for an approach. I was searching for a routine. And I didn’t really know. It took a little bit of time to learn. The biggest thing I learned is to stay mentally prepared.
“A lot of time people can sit back, and put the blame on others — put the blame on the team, the front office, or whoever. Or you can do something about it and take a lot of positives from the situation. Once I started doing that, everything has shifted and changed for me.”
Smith is doing what he can in that regard, but it’s not like he’s able to write his own name into the lineup. During our conversation, Michael Conforto overheard what we were talking about and pulled a lefty catcher’s mitt out of Smith’s locker.
“Oh, yeah, I got my catching glove, too,” Smith said, smiling. “I’ll do it all.”
He’d settle for leftfield. If only the Mets would see it that way. When Mickey Callaway was asked about revisiting the Smith experiment, he first joked they’d have to put him somewhere “if he keeps hitting bombs” like Tuesday night. Even with the Mets’ emphasis on versatility, the manager still made an exception when it comes to Smith.
“I don’t think we would, right at this point,” Callaway said. “But I don’t think we can ever rule anything out with these guys.”
Smith insists he’ll be ready if that day comes again, as it should.