Sometimes it just takes one game to reverse fortunes. For Dominic Smith and the Class A Advanced St. Lucie Mets, Tuesday might have been that game.
The Mets' No. 9 prospect, who entered the day with a .157 average and a .385 OPS, went 3-for-5 with a double, four RBIs and three runs scored to lead St. Lucie to a 12-6 win over Tampa at home. The victory snapped a six-game losing streak for the Mets, who improved to 14-18 on the season.
The game marked just the third time in 20 games that Smith has collected multiple hits in a contest and the second time in which he collected three. He started May going 2-for-29 (.069) in eight games after returning from an ankle injury and illness that kept him out from April 25-May 2. But Smith was confident his best performance of the 2015 season was on the way.
"I feel like I've been seeing the ball well the last couple games, even if it hadn't shown up yet," he said. "I had barreled up some balls, but they were right at people or didn't quite get through. Today, it was good to see a couple coming in for hits."
For what it's worth, the BABIP backs up what Smith says about the luck of his balls put in play. Entering Tuesday, he owned just a .216 BABIP, more than 100 points lower than his .321 BABIP at Class A Savannah last season.
His four RBIs marked a personal best at the Class A Advanced level and increased his season total to seven. (The other three came in his other three-hit game against Brevard County on April 16.)
But for all that, the most optimistic thing that may have come out of Smith's performance Tuesday was the double. The RBI ground-rule two-bagger in the fourth inning was the 19-year-old first baseman's second extra-base hit this season, the other being a double on Opening Day.
Although he is young -- he was the fourth-youngest player in the FSL on Opening Day -- the lack of power from the 2013 11th overall pick has been a concern in his first two full seasons. Smith hit just one homer in 126 games (518 plate appearances) for Savannah in 2014, and his .067 isolated slugging percentage or ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) was seventh-lowest in the South Atlantic League. (Note: Savannah's Grayson Stadium has been one of the toughest Minor League parks in which to homer during recent seasons.)
After Tuesday's performance, the left-handed hitter improved his slash line to .187/.238/.213, resulting in a .026 ISO. Ranked as MLB.com's No. 4 first-base prospect, Smith, who is considered a plus defender, will need to show some improvement with the bat if he's going to climb the ladder at the position.
An encouraging sign is that Smith bounced back in a big way in May last year as well. After putting up a .212/.261/.247 line with the Sand Gnats in last April, he hit .320/.398/.360 in May and .301/.363/.409 in June. (Smith finished with a .271/.344/.338 line with one homer, one triple, 26 doubles and 44 RBIs in 126 games last season.)
Now with his injury behind him, he expects a few more performances like Tuesday's, whether it's a BABIP-related course correction or finding his timing after missing time.
"I haven't lost confidence in myself at all," Smith said. "This is just the nature of the game. Some days, you're going to get hits to go through. Some days, you'll get jammed, and it'll fall for a hit. Some days, you'll barrel a ball and get nothing. My hitting coach [Joel Fuentes] have talked a lot about the mental side sticking with the same approach.
"I'm just now getting my timing back. Today, it was just about getting pitches to hit, and when that happens, I'm happy I'm able to capitalize on them. I'm not focused on homers or extra-base hits right now. I'm not trying to hit the ball out each time or anything. I'm just waiting for my pitch and letting the good things happen."
The streak-busting win featured strong performances from most of the St. Lucie lineup. Each of the nine starters reached base at least once, and seven of the nine collected multiple hits off Tampa pitching. Besides Smith, second baseman Jeff McNeil and right fielder Maikis De La Cruz each had three hits. Third baseman Phillip Evans went 2-for-5 with a double and three RBIs.
"This team is ultra-talented," Smith said, "and we're capable of putting together games like this every now and again. It's not going to happen all the time, but if we can get a few hits together, make the defense change their positioning, start each inning off strong, we'll put together some games like this. This isn't an every-night thing, but yeah, we're capable of this."