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Smith keeps slugging for St. Lucie

Mets' No. 9 prospect combines with Oberste for seven hits, six RBIs
May 31, 2015

Dominic Smith entered the weekend with just one home run in 162 games between Class A and Class A Advanced. Luis Rojas' confidence in the 19-year-old wasn't shaken.

"I have no concern whatsoever in that," said the St. Lucie skipper, who also managed Smith last year with Savannah.

This weekend, the Mets' No. 9 prospect rewarded Rojas' confidence. A day after bashing an opposite-field, walk-off homer, Smith collected three hits and four RBIs on Sunday afternoon in a 10-4 win over Fort Myers.

Smith combined with fellow first baseman Matt Oberste for seven hits, including three doubles, and six RBIs Smith went 3-for-5 with a double and four RBIs, while Oberste was 4-for-5, doubled twice and drove in two runs.

For Smith, the three-hit game stretched his hit streak to 13 games. The 19-year-old hit his first Florida State League homer on Saturday, an 11th-inning blast that gave St. Lucie a 4-2 win over the Miracle. Smith is batting .260 with a .680 OPS for the season but posted better numbers in May.

"Those two guys are doing better at laying off pitchers' pitches and going after their pitches," Rojas said. "[Yesterday, Smith] laid off two marginal pitches, pitches he wasn't going to do damage with early in the at-bat, then got to a 2-0 count and got a pitch to drive. He barreled that one for a walk-off."

Smith frustrated expectant Mets fans last year by hitting one homer in 126 games with Savannah under Rojas' instruction. The skipper said Saturday's blast was the culmination of more than a year's worth of work on improving Smith's pitch selection.

The California native was a first-round pick, in part because of his innate ability to put barrel to ball, but that talent has proven as much a curse as a blessing in his pro career, Rojas said. Smith can connect with pitches outside the strike zone better than most, which is why he struck out in only 14.9 percent of his plate appearances in 2014 despite an aggressive approach. He could swing at a bad pitch but still make contact.

But as Smith is learning, it's nearly impossible to consistently drive pro-quality pitches inches off the plate.

Smith has been connecting, but not solidly, Rojas said. He and hitting coach Joel Fuentes have been working with Smith to lay off borderline offerings and instead focus on recognizing and punishing pitches closer to the center of the strike zone.

"He had the ability to drive those pitches when he was in high school," Rojas said. "He's a first-rounder, a pretty good hitter, but he's also facing good competition in this league right now, pitchers that have good secondary stuff and can locate the fastball better. He has to get even finer with his recognition and selection of pitches he will swing at.

"Things are getting better every day. His experience is expanding now. This is what's going on now. He's going through a good time. Now you just try to find consistency and then ... when he has one day or two days in a row that goes bad, he needs to also find the feel to get right back on track. That's part of the development you have to go through."

Smith has two homers in 164 Minor League games, but because of the first baseman's strength, Rojas said he's optimistic more power will come with time. Rojas points to the 40 doubles Smith has over the past two seasons as evidence.

"You can see it in the extra bases," Rojas said. "He only has one homer [this year], but he's a kid that's pretty comfortable driving the ball the other way. He stays to the center of the field, uses the big part of the park. We all know that you learn how to pull later when you become a good hitter.

"The home run he hit yesterday, he drove it to the opposite field, the ball carried. It was like a righty that pulled a fastball in, the way it flew out. It's fun to watch and he can be comfortable driving it the other way. The power will keep showing up."

Rojas also said he thinks Oberste's recent hot streak can be explained in much the same way as Smith's run. The 23-year-old also homered Saturday, then lifted his average to .279 with his four-hit day.

"I think he's been swinging at better pitches," Rojas said. "That's something that's hurt him at times. … I know how streaky he can be and why he can get that way. He only has to find a feel for the strike zone, get pitches he can drive and stick to his plan. That's what he's been doing the last couple of days.

"He's staying in the gaps a little more. … Today, the second double he hit was to right-center and it was well driven, too. That's also something he's doing, is to maintain his swing and his swing path through the zone more, staying toward the pitcher and letting the ball travel a little more."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.