Smith's winter ball experience ends early

October 26th, 2018

NEW YORK -- When signed on to play winter ball late this season, he expressed significant excitement, noting that he had "heard nothing but great things about" playing in the Dominican Republic.

The experience was far from what he expected. The Toros del Este released Smith after just seven games due to a misunderstanding regarding his defensive role, according to his Roc Nation agency.

Smith hoped to spend his winter getting "additional reps with a goal of continuing to increase his versatility to best help the New York Mets," his agent, Kyle Thousand, wrote in a statement.

"With the lack of play in the outfield, both parties felt it was best for Dom to come back to the U.S. to train for the upcoming 2019 season," Thousand continued.

Where that leaves Smith and the Mets heading into Spring Training isn't entirely clear. A strong defensive first baseman coming up through the Minor Leagues, Smith struggled at that position initially in the Majors. With fellow top prospect Peter Alonso (No. 2 in the Mets' system per MLB Pipeline) raking on the farm and multiple big league outfielders on the disabled list, the Mets began exposing Smith to left field in June to increase his versatility. He played in 13 games there with the big club down the stretch.

Mets assistant general manager John Ricco did not immediately respond to a message Friday seeking comment on Smith's situation. Among the Mets' most significant upcoming decisions will be whether to proceed with Smith or Alonso as their primary first baseman for the foreseeable future, with and also capable of manning the position.

Winter ball was meant as a way for Smith to expand his skills in left field, but the Toros del Este preferred to use his glove at first. Smith hit just .133 in his seven Dominican Winter League games.

"It's tough to go play winter ball," he said in September. "There are great players and there's a lot of pressure. I think that really helps a player blossom and be the player he needs to be to play in the big leagues."

Surgery for Cespedes

underwent surgery Friday to remove bone calcification in his left heel, after undergoing an identical procedure on his right heel over the summer. Cespedes has estimated he will not be able to return to baseball activities for about four months, all but ensuring he will miss the start of the regular season.