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Mets stick with M.O., draft high school bat Smith

First baseman out of Los Angeles known for hitting prowess, glove and arm

WASHINGTON -- Dominic Smith grew up south of Los Angeles, in the same area as former Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry. Too young to follow Strawberry's career, Smith instead looked up to players such as Robinson Cano and Carlos Gonzalez -- left-handed hitters with picturesque swings.

Mets amateur scouting director Tommy Tanous offered similar comps -- Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark -- when discussing the newest member of his organization. Spending their top Draft pick on a high school hitter for the third year in a row, the Mets selected Smith, a 17-year-old first baseman, out of Serra High School in Los Angeles County at 11th overall.

They hope only that his swing will captivate Flushing as Strawberry's once did.

"He can get his hands to the ball and get inside the ball as well as anybody I've seen as an amateur," Tanous said. "It's an extremely smooth swing. His legs stay under him. His head never moves. And it's really, really a flawless bat path once he gets to the ball."

"That's a great compliment," Smith said. "I'm at a loss for words. Hopefully I can live up to it."

Since taking over after the 2010 season, general manager Sandy Alderson's front office has made high school hitters a first-round priority, selecting outfielder Brandon Nimmo in '11 and shortstop Gavin Cecchini in '12. Such talents are considered riskier than college players, but often boast more upside.

Smith, the Mets believe, is oozing with upside. The organization believes his hitting ability, power stroke, arm strength -- he hit 92 mph as a pitcher -- and defense are all elite.

"You don't find a swing like this every year," Tanous said. "We feel like we put a very offensive player and defensive player into the system. I've been scouting 18 years. I don't think I've seen a first baseman play as an amateur with this kind of defense, also. So this is a well-rounded player. It's hit and it's power, and it's a middle-of-the-order bat."

Smith, who is committed to the University of Southern California in the unlikely event that he does not sign, will be known as the player the Mets took instead of forfeiting their pick to sign free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Smith is capable of playing the outfield in a pinch, and it's possible he could wind up there later in his development. But the Mets see him mainly as a standout first baseman, due in large part to his elite defensive profile.

Still, the reason Smith went in the first round of the Draft was his bat. A Rawlings preseason All-American, Smith hit .493 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs in 27 games this season to help Serra win the CIF D3 title. He also appeared in six games on the mound, going 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings -- numbers that hint at his overall athleticism.

"He's a guy that we had followed since last summer," Mets vice president of amateur scouting and player development Paul DePodesta said. "But even really before that, our area scout in Los Angeles has known Dominic since he was about 12 years old. So he was a guy we were really focused on throughout the year, and we were really hopeful he was going to get to us."

With their second pick of Day 1 of the Draft, the Mets selected right-hander Andrew Church out of Basic High School in Nevada. Day 2 of the Draft continues with Rounds 3-10, streamed live on on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m. ET. And Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.'s coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

In the pipeline: The Mets do not have any impact first basemen at the upper levels of their farm system, part of the reason why they have given Ike Davis so much rope despite his struggles at the plate. In fact, the only corner infielder among their top 20 prospects is Wilmer Flores, a third baseman whose long-term defensive home is not clear.

That should create plenty of opportunity for Smith, who will nonetheless progress slowly through the system as a 17-year-old out of high school.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
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