What Dominic Smith lacks in brashness, he more than makes up for with his bat. The Mets' No. 2 prospect and his soft-spoken demeanor belie impressive talent on the diamond that has fans in New York eagerly awaiting his arrival at Citi Field.
MLB.com's No. 55 overall prospect followed up his MVP season with Class A Advanced St. Lucie in 2015 with another strong effort last year. Smith had little trouble adjusting to Double-A pitching, batting .302/.367/.457 for Binghamton with a career-high 14 homers and 91 RBIs, the third-most in the Eastern League. He played for the U.S. team at the 2016 All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and earned a spot among the Mets Organizational All-Stars for the second straight year.
Soon after learning he'd been invited to Major League Spring Training, Smith spoke about life on and off the diamond and what he hopes is a special homecoming in Queens.
MiLB.com: Was there a concerted effort on your part to increase your power and run production in 2016?
Smith: I want to improve every year in every category, but the power was the one thing I really wanted to showcase. It really took me until this past year to get my swing in tune with my body and learn how to be a solid run producer. It's like a game of chess: you pick your spots to do damage with the long ball. I wanted to develop and drive balls all over the field but also play the cat-and-mouse game of picking spots to do maximum damage; in the past, I didn't do that. I'm looking to drive the ball with authority in certain situations as opposed to just getting a hit.
MiLB.com: The Mets have been pretty conservative with your development, keeping you at one level for each of the last three seasons. Do you feel that's benefited you as a player?
Smith: I think it's helped me tremendously. The Mets do a good job of making sure players are ready to succeed when they move up a level. For me, you can see the progression in my game. I give [the Mets] a lot of credit for helping me along in that way.
MiLB.com: What is your offseason routine like and have you added or subtracted anything to this year's version?
Smith: My offseason has been really good so far. I started out by going to Michigan and participating in the [Mike] Barwis training method a lot of the Mets use. I came home for Thanksgiving and then traveled up to Fresno, where I worked out at a local facility until the holidays. I'm finishing up my last session down here before I head off to camp in St. Lucie in a few weeks. It's been one of my most productive offseasons as far as getting after it. I've hit it hard from start to finish, so I'm pretty happy with how things have gone.
MiLB.com: Speaking of camp, the Mets just announced you've been invited to Major League Spring Training for the second straight year, which deserves congratulations. What Major Leaguers have helped you -- and how -- during your time around them?
Smith: Thank you, I appreciate that. As far as the big leaguers, it's really a bunch of guys who have been helpful, not just one. And I think that type of leadership speaks volumes as to why the Mets have become successful the last few years. [Curtis] Granderson would talk to me all the time and so would David Wright. [Lucas] Duda showed me the ropes the last few years and I also worked out in the offseason with him. Even younger guys like [Michael] Conforto and Wilmer [Flores] pull me to the side and give me insight on how things are supposed to be done and how the game is supposed to be played. I appreciate them and the family environment. Nobody looks down on any of the Minor Leaguers and everyone is always willing to help.
MiLB.com: Do you feel any extra pressure knowing that you're one of the top-ranked prospects for a team that plays in New York?
Smith: There's a lot of pressure on all of us, period. Anyone that says otherwise is lying. It does play on you from time to time, but for me, I just try to control what I can control. I can't please everybody, but as long as I'm trying my hardest and doing the best that I can, that's all the team asks for. As for the New York aspect, it's hard to escape it. It's the biggest media market with the best fans. They'll love you if you play well and win, and that's what I plan on doing. We have a lot of guys up there right now who know how to win.
Video: Binghamton's Smith blasts three-run shot
MiLB.com: Have you given yourself a chance to sit back and think just how close you are to reaching the Majors?
Smith: No, not really. Being in Double-A this past season, I realized that this is where you start seeing guys make that jump to the bigs. I thought about that a little and how it really was pretty close. In Double-A, you play with guys who have seen big league time and you hear the stories. But I'm really focused on getting my mind and body set and focused on the upcoming season, no matter where I end up playing.
MiLB.com: You grew up in the Los Angeles area, were you more of a Dodgers or Angels fan?
Smith: I was more of an Angels fan, but I was more of a baseball fan in general.
MiLB.com: Is there a particular player you've modeled yourself after?
Smith: I love watching Robinson Cano and how smooth his game is. It's effortless and I try to bring that into my own game. I also look at Carlos Gonzalez in Colorado. He's a five-tool freak with one of the sweetest swings in the bigs. Of course, I want to be like those guys. Some people have the idea that I'm lazy or lackadaisical because of how my play looks on the field, but I'm just trying to be as smooth out there as possible.
MiLB.com: You recently participated in the Community Baseball Fest near your home. Do you enjoy the personal interaction with fans?
Smith: I love that type of stuff. Growing up and loving baseball as a kid, you dream of those things. When as youngsters we had Major League players come back and help, it meant the world to us. We wanted to be just like them. If I'm ever able to give back when I have free time, I'm all for it. I enjoy hanging with the kids and joking around. We need players to do these types of things in the local communities to continue encouraging kids to keep playing.
MiLB.com: You're also pretty active on Twitter. Is that another easy way to interact with fans?
Smith: It is and I love talking and interacting with people who are interested in sports or even about life in general. You can reach a lot of people through Twitter. A simple tweet takes less than a second, but it can impact people's lives in a very positive way.
MiLB.com: Life in the Minors isn't always as easy or glamorous. Do you have any interesting stories that stick out?
Smith: [laughs] Oh man, there's a lot. My first year in pro ball when I was with [Class A] Savannah, we had just finished a series in Lexington and had one of our few off days on tap. The game ended around 10:30 that night and we got on the road around midnight for the long ride home. On the way, our bus broke down, so we pulled into a gas station in the middle of nowhere. The closest auto repair shop was about an hour away, so they had to drive out to us to figure out what was wrong, drive back to get the parts and then back to us again to fix the bus. All of this was happening in the middle of the night and as a player, you really don't know what's going on. We all fell asleep on the bus and when we woke up, the sun was coming up and we were still at the gas station. We finally got on the road and and after a few hours, we stopped to get some food. When we left, we actually went 90 minutes back towards Lexington because the bus driver needed to be relieved since he couldn't be driving past a certain number of hours. We picked up the new bus driver and headed back to Savannah again. By the time we got back, we had spent all night and a majority of the next day on the bus. Our day off was completely shot.
MiLB.com: What are you looking forward to most about playing in New York?
Smith: I think the biggest thing I'm looking forward to is bringing my mom [Yvette LaFleur] there. She was born and raised in the Bronx, but she moved to Los Angeles when she was in middle school. My grandfather [Weldon LaFleur], her father, passed away when I was about 2 years old, but when I was drafted by the Mets, my mom commented on how he must have nudged God to help her come full circle by giving her the chance to come back to New York with me. I still have family there, so it will be a really special time for me. I'm looking forward to it.