They say prospects will break your heart, and that sentiment is affirmed exponentially more often than not. Fans that closely follow their favorite team’s farm system exhibit a special kind of fandom that enjoys tracking the youngsters’ continued growth as they (hopefully) climb the ladder to the show. There’s just something special about watching the likes of Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard play in minor league games, and then seeing those same players on a major league diamond months or years later.
While life events have prevented me from following the Mets’ farm beyond a cursory familiarity over the last several seasons, there have certainly been many prospects that I developed an unsurprising yet still inexplicable attachment to over the years. In fact, many of them are the subject of some of my oldest articles on Mets360 should you choose to peruse the archives.
I was perhaps rooting for none more than one Dominic Smith, which isn’t surprising with a bit of context. Back in 2013, not long after I started to write for Mets360 and shortly after the Mets selected Smith with the 11th pick of the 2013 draft, I stumbled into an unexpected opportunity to interview him. I was a little nervous, as you can imagine, despite it being a phone interview with what was essentially a kid at the time. What I remember most was his poor cell phone reception and how difficult it was to hear his responses to my questions. Still, it was a fairly successful interview that really solidified my status as one of his biggest supporters.
Smith was a bit of a slow-burn as a prospect, particularly one drafted so high despite being a high school pick, who only made his major league debut in the summer of 2017. The elite power never really manifested and his defense was never quite as good as advertised. Additionally, his weight was an early story in his career until it wasn’t, which spoke to his ability to buckle down and do what it takes to put himself in the best position to succeed.
Smith appeared to really hit his stride in 2019 while putting up a wRC+ of 134. Unfortunately for him, that was the year that Pete Alonso burst onto the scene. Alonso proceeded to break the rookie home run record, set the Mets’ franchise record for home runs in a season, and earned NL Rookie of the Year honors while effectively snatching the mantle of “Mets future 1B” from Smith’s shoulders.
Smith completed his best season during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign with a robust (and top ten) wRC+ of 166, but followed up what was thought to be a breakout with a disappointing wRC+ of 86 for the 2021 season. For what it’s worth, it’s been reported that he suffered a partially-torn labrum early on that he played through for most of the 2021 season.
After the signing splurge that was the Mets’ 2021-2022 offseason, roster crunch limited Smith’s opportunities. Even so, his lack of performance in 2022 when the opportunities did arise led to his demotion to AAA at the end of May. He rejoined the team in late June but continued to perform poorly before injuring his ankle in July. Trade deadline moves introduced additional roster crunch, and Smith was ultimately optioned back to AAA in August.
The Mets non-tendered Smith last week, likely ending his Mets career. He finished his time in Queens with an overall slash of .246/.308/.424, a wRC+ of 100, and an fWAR of -0.2.
Smith’s journey has been a tough one as he seemed to continuously battle injuries and fight for playing time. He didn’t help his case with his lack of consistent performance, of course, but I can’t help but think that his career thus far is a fascinating reflection of that call I had with him so long ago: uneven, frustrating, and difficult to understand.
At just 27 years old his career is, theoretically, far from over. He’s shown flashes that justified why the Mets drafted him as high as they did in 2013, but he’ll need to prove that he can be that impact player given consistent playing time. He won’t get that with the Mets at this juncture, but he may be that classic case of a player simply requiring a change of scenery to turn it around.
Prospects break your heart all the time, though it’s rarer that one actually makes it to the majors before doing so. By all accounts Smith is a great person, and I hope all Mets fans will join me in wishing him success at his next stop and beyond.