I made the drive north to Jupiter to see the Mets and Cardinals Gulf Coast League teams on Tuesday, with Mets 2013 first-rounder Dominic Smith being the big ticket prospect I was hoping to see. I'll have more posted later on the other notable prospects I saw, but Smith was the one player I wanted to be sure to see. Sure enough, he was batting third and playing first base for the Mets on the afternoon, but that doesn't mean I got to see much of him.
Smith, selected 11th overall less than a month ago, was one of the most talented high school hitters in America this season. Despite having just turned 18, he's still a physical specimen despite being listed at just 6'0" 185 lbs.
His first time at bat on a fine Tuesday afternoon, Smith did not disappoint. He took a high fastball from a rehabbing Jordan Swagerty, a 23-year-old who has pitched as high as Double-A, and with a smooth left-handed stroke, he turned on, and got on top of, the pitch and drove it in the right-center gap for a double. It was simply a sweet piece of hitting against a more experienced pitcher.
But after that, I got to see little of Smith.
The first baseman came to bat four more times, but in those four at-bats, he saw exactly four pitches. Swinging at the first pitch on each occasion, Smith did no further damage on the afternoon, expanding the zone and swinging at pitches with which he could do little or no damage.
This isn't just a case of an aggressive hitter. This was ultra-aggressiveness, and not all in run-producing situations where young hitters sometimes tend to try to do too much. Over the span of four plate appearances, Smith came up in various scenarios. He was aggressive in all of them.
Based on this game only, as it was my first time seeing him in person, my initial reaction is that he will have to work on being more patient at the plate. Yet while at this game, a Cardinals coach who had seen already seen him once this GCL season told me that this was a polar opposite of the last time they saw him, when he was extremely patient at the plate.
Which is why it's so important to see young players multiple times. Baseball America's pre-draft write-up of Smith said that "he still wastes at-bats and chases at times," which leads me to believe that while what I saw may have been an extreme version, Smith is currently an over-aggressive hitter. Maybe today he was working on being extra aggressive. Maybe the other day, he was purposely taking pitches early in the count to work on being more selective. Who knows? In the lower levels of the minors, organizations often have players work on specific things without worrying about in-game consequences. The Mets, for instance, had a switch-hitter bat right-handed against a right-handed pitcher in two at-bats on this afternoon. That's the luxury of playing games in front of less than 20 people. Teams can work on things without scrutiny.
And maybe that's what Smith was doing. I don't know yet, but after I see him a few more times, I'll have a better idea.
Despite his free-swinging ways on this afternoon, however, Smith was still impressive. Even though he was hitting pitcher's pitches, he still managed to barrel up each one and even the pair of one-hoppers back to the pitcher he hit in his final two at-bats were struck relatively well. His swing path is smooth and he generates good bat speed. In the field, his actions are smooth and he's athletic for his size. He moves well in the field and has a strong throwing arm, although when throwing to second base, he does do the "Ryan Howard Sling" throw that can lead to erratic throws. On this day, however, he was fine.
Smith stood out among both teams, looking like the first-round pick that he was on a field full of later-round picks and international signees. His ultra-aggressive approach on this day isn't a condemnation of his mentality at the plate, but it is the first note in an ongoing scouting report of how he uses his ability to hit a baseball and the testament to the importance of seeing players, especially young players, multiple times.