Smith embracing challenge of critical season

With Alonso in waiting, Mets 1B knows time has come to prove himself

February 19th, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The flocks follow everywhere he goes, snapping pictures, pining for sound bites, wondering whether he will make the team. On the Mets' first day of live batting practice over the weekend, Alonso asked to track pitches against . It was the day's main attraction. Ever since, Alonso has been a popular figure during BP sessions.

Far more anonymous in the early days of camp has been , spending the past two mornings swinging on a quieter back field. Alonso is a former second-round Draft pick; Smith, a former first-rounder. Alonso is 24 years old; Smith, just 23. But while the former appears entrenched in the Mets' future plans, the latter's future is uncertain -- though not in his own mind.

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"The fans who have seen me play in Binghamton or my first year in Vegas, or even here in St. Lucie -- unless you've seen that Dominic, then you haven't really seen the real Dominic Smith," he said. "I'm excited to showcase my talent this Spring Training."

Smith's message, in other words, is not to discount his future after one poor season. In 2016 at Double-A Binghamton, Smith broke out, batting .302 with 14 homers. He added both average and power the following year at Triple-A Las Vegas, performing well enough to make his big league debut. But Smith struggled with the Mets and, last summer, could not establish consistency in either New York or Las Vegas.

Mets officials did little to ease his development, asking Smith to transition to a foreign position -- left field -- in the midst of his offensive struggles. The team went as far as to send Smith to the Dominican Republic to play the outfield in winter ball, but he departed after only seven games due to the Toros del Este's desire to have him stick at first base.

At least that much is no longer an issue; this spring, manager Mickey Callaway said, Smith will play "strictly" at his natural position of first base.

Consider it one less worry for Smith in what has all the makings of a critical season. Over the winter, Smith worked regularly with a personal trainer, Art Correa, near his home in Los Angeles. He reported to camp with past worries about his weight behind him, allowing him to focus on "just trying to get better and accomplish my goals, and that's to become a really good big leaguer."

"The sky's the limit," Smith said. "I can hit. I showed glimpses of that last year. When I was up there, I took some of their best pitchers deep. I played some pretty decent defense. If I play to my full potential, then I can do that on an everyday basis."

Callaway referenced in particular the solo home run Smith hit Sept. 7 off , an opposite-field shot that demonstrated the power he still possesses. Unlike Alonso and , the Mets' other options at first base, Smith holds the platoon advantage against the majority of big league pitchers -- including National League East aces Nola, and , whom the Mets will see often in April. Twice already this spring, Callaway has hinted that simply being left-handed should bolster Smith's roster chances.

The rest is up to Smith, who must establish himself in the big leagues in 2019 or risk Alonso burying him on the depth chart for good.

"I don't worry," Smith said. "If you worry, then it's going to be a combination of doubts and fears, and you're not going to be able to play well like that. If I control what I can control, and that's playing hard every day and playing my game, then I'll be the best option there at first base."