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Once again we’re dealing with a prospect whose projected overall value is heavily dependent on what one makes of the offensive tools. With Dominic Smith, there’s a fairly sizable divide amongst industry folks on what Smith’s ultimate value will be. Most agree that the hit tool is impressive—somewhere between 55 and 70—but the hang up here is with anticipated power production, as Smith hasn’t yet shown the ability to authoritatively drive the ball on a consistent basis, instead opting for an approach geared toward opposite field contact. There’s something to be said for a player who’s demonstrated an advanced approach at a young age, but then again, first basemen are expected to hit bombs, and more importantly, they’re expected to be well-above average from an overall production standpoint. Can Smith meet those lofty standards without showing above average power? Absolutely. But it would be far more comforting from a projection standpoint if that power would show up at some point in the not so distant future. Without further ado, Christopher Crawford and Jeffrey Paternostro debate Mets first baseman, Dominic Smith.

POWER

Ezra Wise: Jeff, is it strictly Smith’s lacking home run output thus far that makes you bearish on his power projection or are there more concerning signals related to mechanics and/or approach that suggest he’s not going to provide the home run production that's expected of a first baseman? Chris, what about Smith makes you think he’s going to be able to make it work in the power department? The swing is fluid, rhythmic, and aesthetically pleasing but he’s just not all that assertive attacking driveable pitches.

Jeffrey Paternostro: Would showing more power than he has thus far assuage some of my concerns about his power projection? Sure, but there are very real reasons why he hasn't beyond "scouting the stat line." If you are going to bet on even average game power in the end, where is it coming from? He is physically maxed out and six-foot in cleats. His swing is very much geared to work the left-centerfield gap. He has facility with the bat you can't teach, but he does tend to feel with the bat head to work opposite field as much as possible, and that cuts off what power he can generate right now. I had a quote related to me from Val Pascucci, who is the hitting coach in Savannah. He says that in A-ball players see well over half of all pitches on the outer half. Smith sets up well for that plan of attack, but is he going to be able to handle upper-level velocity on the inner half? I have my concerns. He's seen an awful lot of 88-90 mph fastballs so far in his pro career, and the bat speed here is just okay. He'll show 55 raw in batting practice to the pull side on occasion; but he isn't coming close to tapping into that in-game right now.

Can the game power get there? Maybe? Again, where is it coming from? As it is he could stand to drop some mass, and you would have to make some significant tweaks to his swing to add loft. He is strong enough to yank a few out now and again, and occasionally he will get one to carry out to left-center, but it is hard for me to see more than low double-digit output at maturity.

Christopher Crawford: No, Smith isn't going to be among the league leaders in homers for the position but he doesn’t have to do that in order to be a successful player. Let's keep in mind that Smith has played in parks that make big power numbers very difficult, especially Savannah, but St. Lucie is no picnic for power hitters either. Just take a look at the leaders in homers for those clubs the last few years. It ain’t pretty. Is that the only excuse? Of course not, but I think it helps paint the picture. Yes, Smith prefers to drive the ball into the opposite field gap, and as Jeff said he is physically maxed out, but there's strength here, and I think you're going to see him hit enough doubles and homers to justify playing everyday with all the other good things Smith does.

HIT TOOL

EW: Let’s say hypothetically that Smith’s power ends up being fringy to below-average.Would that be a death sentence for his viability as a regular? What are the chances he’s able to carry first base, driven almost entirely by his hit tool? Is there enough there for him to be a very poor man’s Joe Mauer, a rich man’s James Loney, or even just James Loney?

JP: I do think Smith hits himself to the majors in some capacity. Mostly because he really can hit, but partially because as a high first-round pick, he is going to get plenty of shots. James Loney is a comp that does come up a fair bit for him. It's a little lazy, as Loney’s frame is much larger, but as far as end production goes, it works. Loney has been a second-division-starter type for most of his career, and that is around where I have Smith's OFP. But that isn’t a Top 101 profile to me, even before we factor in the risk and time it’ll take him to reach that outcome.

If he’s not a Loney type, he might look more like Daric Barton, which is a comp Savannah Sand Gnats broadcaster Toby Hyde uses, and he’s seen more of Smith than anyone, including Smith’s extended family. That's still a major leaguer, but I do struggle to see an impact profile at first base unless he finds more power or turns into one of the ten or twenty best hit tool guys in baseball.

CC: If the hit tool ends up plus and he's above-average around the bag? Of course he can play everyday, it just means that you have to get your power production from another place. There is no rule that says "thy first baseman must hitteth for the power(eth)." It's a natural place to get it from because you can get away with putting the not-so-athletic guys there, but if Smith is hitting .300 and getting on base in the .360/.370 range like I believe he can, you just have to find the pop elsewhere. Again, I think there's more power in his bat than that, and I think you'll see him tap into that next year.

There's part of me that understands the concerns with Smith, because if you're looking for your first baseman to be this archaic "DINGERS!" first baseman, Smith isn't your guy. A large part of me just doesn't get it. This guy can rake—yeah there's some weak contact and he's gonna have to work on turning on the ball, but he's so young, and this isn't D.J. Peterson—this isn't some kid who isn't performing at all where we’re wondering how the heck this profile can play. I've spoken to just as many in the industry who love him as who hate him, so I get it, but I'll stick my neck out for this type of feel for hitting. Every. Single. Time.

EVALUATING FIRST BASEMEN

EW: Agree or disagree? Upper echelon first-base-only guys tend to be "undervalued," deservedly or not, until they hit in Double-A. Is this justified or are we too quick to categorically downgrade this type of player in the low minors?

CC: Probably agree, because of the preconceived notions laid out above. And I think in a lot of cases, people scout the stat line and expect too much. Smith doesn't turn 21 until July. This idea that Smith’s a "what you see is what you get" type of guy just because he doesn't have the prototypical build is insane. Give it time, there's no reason to rush. Not yet, anyway.

JP: I often joke about every pro baseball player being a shortstop in high school. It's hyperbole, but there is a grain of truth there. We are in the projection business, which I suppose can also just as accurately be called "the dreaming business." It is always going to be easier to dream on J.P. Crawford than Dominic Smith, for example.

Overall though, I think first base prospects get a fair shake. If you look at the elite tier of first basemen in baseball, other than Goldschmidt, they were all considered top-50 prospect types in the minors. As a class, they do have to show more with the bat earlier though. A.J. Reed has done it, and I think he is ranked appropriately. The reality of the profile is this: First baseman hit .259/.336/.444 last year. That is a pretty good hitter in this era, and that just gets you to average.

The thing about first-base-only prospects, and this applies specifically to Smith as well, is there’s an implication that they only have one way to really impact the game. They have to hit. And they have to reach that offensive projection. JP Crawford can still be a good everyday player as a 50 hit, 40 power guy. Dom Smith is a Triple-A shuttle guy if the bat falls short. Good defense at first is nice, but it isn't going to move the needle all that much. Nobody is carrying Doug Mientkiewicz nowadays.

DEFENSE / BODY

EW: The body's a little soft right now. How do you guys see that holding up over time? Is that going to get in the way of him realizing his defensive potential? Is defensive ability something that figures prominently in the formulation of Smith's Role grade or is it not really an important data point because first baseman don’t really impact the game on defense all that much?

CC: Defensively I think Smith's "soft" physique could be a hindrance long-term, but I think his footwork and instincts more than make up for it, in addition to the above-average arm. There aren't many better defensive first baseman I've seen in minor league baseball the last two years. Of course that doesn't matter nearly as much as the defense at literally every other position, but saving runs is saving runs, and I think Smith can do that on top of the ability to get on base.

JP: It's going to be a high maintenance body, and he's added what I would consider bad weight each year as a professional. You can manage that of course, and there are broader issues at play here with respect to nutrition and workout management across the minor leagues, but yes, it has affected his play in the field. His footwork is heavier and more awkward than I'd like to see given the amateur reputation, especially around the bag. You see flashes of a plus defender in there, but his best defensive attribute is his arm, and that doesn't really come into play much at first. And I haven't seen enough to project him as a special defender at first anyway. If he was a true Gold Glove level first baseman, that might make the whole package a little more palatable as an everyday player, but first baseman don't show up on prospect lists because they can pick it.

SUMMATION

EW: Alright. Power statement time. What does Dominic Smith look like performance-wise as a Big Leaguer?

CC: The ceiling is a guy who gets on base in the .370/.390 range with 15 to 20 homers and "gold glove" defense. I will concede that the floor here is pretty low because of the positional value, but the reason I'm the high guy on Smith is because I believe it's more likely he reaches the ceiling than hits the floor. Here's hoping I'm right because I like being right.

JP: Smith will have the occasional season where the batting average is high enough that he looks like a solid regular, but will ultimately frustrate due to the lack of power. He’ll stick around as a lefty bench bat on a team that has a need. Hmm, I guess that is sort of James Loneyish.

FINAL GRADES

TOOL

CRAWFORD

PATERNOSTRO

HIT

60

55

POWER

50+

40

RUN

40

20

FIELD

60

50

THROW

55

60

ROLE

60

45

STRENGTH

Hit Tool

Hit Tool

WEAKNESS

Physique

Approach stunts power

WRAP UP

2016 is going to be a big year for Smith’s development as he’ll face the critical test that is the Double-A level. As Chris points out, Smith hasn’t turned 21 yet, so even if the upcoming year isn’t a cake walk for him offensively, sounding the proverbial alarm will hardly be warranted. Of course offensive hiccups are far scarier for first base prospects than for players at other positions because they’re so heavily dependent on the development of their offensive tools. Don’t be surprised if that happens at some point as a drastic alteration to Smith’s approach aimed at inducing more big flies, would likely require that he take a step or two back before progressing forward. Does he absolutely, positively have to change his approach in order to be a Big League regular? Most definitely not. The overriding objective of an offensive player is not to hit home runs, or doubles, or to walk; it’s to create runs, and if Smith can do that at a suitable level through some combination of his hit tool, power output, and on-base ability, the specifics of how he achieves that end won’t matter all that much.

Thank you for reading

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shmage
2/05
I'm utterly amazed by the absence of one name in this article: that of Keith Hernandez, than whom no team has had a more valuable first-baseman in the recent decades. Left handed thrower, Excellent fielder (and nobody prevents other peoples' errors like a good fielding left-handed first baseman). Doubles power to all fields, especially left center. Outstanding hit tool. What about HRs? Occasionally, perhaps, but why wouldn't he hit just as many over his career as Hernandez? Sure, not enough to get him into the Hallo of Fame as long as its electors contain as many HR-happy idiots, unwilling to vote for Keith Hernandez, as it does now. But hell, why should any black athlete even want to be part of an institution that honors Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Tyrus Raymond Cobb?
bunklore
2/05
I know that 1986 feels like just yesterday but it was 30 years ago and the standards for baseball players are a lot different now than they were then. I think the use of active/recent player comps is a lot more instructive than leaning on a comp that debuted more than four decades before Dom Smith will.
shmage
2/05
Yeah, the "standards" have changed--for homer-happy idiots who must regret the decline of steroid use. And homer-happy idiots in front offices who pay obscene amounts for them. But standards of play on the field, not so much.
greywilliams
2/05
Not a comp but an example of development... Ryne Sandberg. Switched semi-early career from "put the ball in play" to "step into one every now and then," and that was a deliberate switch based on what his manager (Jim Frye) told him. Did that in the majors. If Smith has the raw strength, he can probably do it. Probably an easier transition than the reverse.
cnote66
2/06
Like this -- more please :-)
Gweilos
2/07
Good debate. You lost me when you didn't say who Smith plays for, or what position he plays. Kinda important.
Gweilos
2/07
OK. I see he plays 1st base. Should I have to go that deep into an article to get that? I'm not a scout. I'm a casual reader paying for this service to get some knowledge. Help me out a bit. Let me know who you're talking about. Don't assume I already know.
ezrawise
2/07
Good points. We'll be sure to provide more contextual info in future debates.
TheArtfulDodger
2/08
Perhaps I'm missing something, but the first paragraph ends with the information: Mets first baseman, Dominic Smith.