PORT ST. LUCIE — Dominic Smith’s latest inspiration came from a recent Instagram live chat he hosted with a noted left fielder.
Barry Bonds dissected Smith’s left-handed swing, but also impressed on the Mets’ budding star the importance of defense. Smith says he absorbed every word.
“[Bonds] was a Gold Glove defender and one of his mottos was, ‘If I’m not getting any hits, nobody is getting any hits today,’ ” Smith said Thursday after a team workout. “So that is just something you have to take pride in and you have to really focus.
“We haven’t sat down and talked about how to cover ground or how to set yourself up to become a plus defender out there, but I think the biggest thing I took away was his mindset and mentality and you have got to work.”
Smith, 25, is focused on left field this spring. If the universal DH is implemented, he could serve in that role or at first base, but for now he must take the approach many of his starts will come in left field.
A natural first baseman, Smith has shed weight in recent seasons and became more agile, but the transition to the outfield has been difficult. He noted a play in Washington on the final weekend last season in which he face-planted the fence, allowing an inside-the-park homer for Andrew Stevenson. The Mets lost the game and were eliminated from the postseason, underscoring the need to make plays defensively.
“My play in left field isn’t great, but people forget I got thrown in left field in the big leagues,” Smith said. “I didn’t realize how hard guys hit the ball until I started playing outfield in the big leagues so it’s a learning curve, it’s a learning process, and I feel like I am taking that challenge and getting better and better at it. I am getting comfortable out there and I know that I can do it. I know that I can play left field, right field, and I’m competitive and I believe in my ability.”
The Mets got their first real taste of Smith’s offensive capabilities two years ago. His breakout came last season, when he posted a slash line of .316/.377/.616 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs in 50 games, joining Michael Conforto in carrying the lineup.
The ideal scenario for the Mets would include the universal DH, allowing manager Luis Rojas the flexibility to play Brandon Nimmo in left field more regularly, with Kevin Pillar or Albert Almora Jr. in center. Smith and Pete Alonso could split first base and DH in that lineup.
But Smith has overcome plenty of adversity just to reach this point, from weight issues early in his major league career to sleep apnea that disrupted his concentration, and would like to hurdle another obstacle.
“I really want to show the world I’m an athletic player,” Smith said.
He’s also interested in seeing what his numbers might be in a full season. Between struggles that sent him to the minor leagues, a stress fracture in his foot in 2019 and last year’s abridged schedule for the pandemic, Smith still hasn’t played a full season in the big leagues.
“But in my stints the last couple of years I have shown that I have power,’ Smith said. “I know that I have power. I know that I can hit 25-plus, 30-plus bombs so that is something I don’t even think about. The home runs are going to come. As long as I’m squaring up the baseball and hitting the ball hard I know I am going to hit a lot of home runs.”
Smith’s ascent has been extra special for manager Luis Rojas, who managed him at Low-A Savannah and High-A St. Lucie and saw the potential.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Rojas said. “He’s still always joking around and having fun, but he’s a grown man right now. The way he has gone about it is the right way. He’s had his challenges, we all know that. He’s had definitely things that try to stop his way and he hasn’t let that happen. I think he’s gone about it the right way and he’s gone about it the best way you can go about those adversities, in this game and life.”