Nationals Baseball: Dom Smith and Company

Friday, January 06, 2023

Dom Smith and Company

 Since I last wrote the Nats picked up Dominic Smith. Out of everyone signed so far Dom Smith is the most interesting because Dom Smith (1) has all the bonafides of once being a top prospect and (2) performed in the major leagues. 

Jeter Downs was simply the best the Red Sox had at the time (and probably slightly over inflated because of that) and was terrible in his first delayed cup of coffee. 

Michael Chavis wasn't Jeter Downs but scraped the idea of a top prospect before being eaten alive by major league pitching once he had more than a half-season up here

Derek Hill (I bring him up because he was in the Jesse column on a similar topic) only made the very bottom of a top prospect list on the strength of his pre-minors work alone and his claim to fame is almost being average in a quarter of a season a couple years ago. 

But Dom Smith was drafted high in the first round (11). He broke into some Top Prospect lists early and managed to raise his profile into the middle of them before making the majors.  Once there after a few disappointing starts, he clicked and hit very well over the course of about a full season of games across 2019-2020. That's... kind of real.  

Kind of.

The problem with Dominic is at his core he's a high average hitter... and nothing else. OK, that's not entirely fair. He did hit for some power in that 19-20 stretch. But that was an anomaly when compared to his other hitting. This includes looking at his days in the minors. Could he have developed power? Sure, there is always some expectation of that. But would you expect that from someone who's career minor league ISOSLG was .130? I don't see it.

He does not walk but he is not a contact hitter. He strikes out a fair amount at least at the major league level. He is not a good fielder. He's probably naturally a fit for 1B or even DH. But those are positions you give your best hitters. If Dom was hitting .300 consistently, ok it's fine even if he has no power but he's not and it's hard to put a guy trying to figure things out there and wasting those at bats. 

Even so with all that I'm ok with this move because Dom's situation hasn't been great. He's been injured and had better guys signed over him and wasn't in a good spot at the end with the Mets. I don't think he's the .200 nothing hitter he ended at with the Mets. My guess is he's better than the .240 line put up before that too. It seems like the question is - is he be a .280+ guy with some pop that he might have matured into or is he a .250-.260 doubles hitter that the minor league stats and a lot of his major league career would suggest.  But really the question is - how long do the Nats take to find out? It's fun to amass guys who might be something. But to figure out if a guy is something he should probably play a fair amount.  A third a season? A half? and it's very tempting when you have a bucket of stuff to throw one away and try something new.  

Dom Smith is a guy they should commit to. They should give him half a year, not Hello my name is Alex Call or Jake Alu. Can they do it? Rebuilding is not about finding the hot hand. It's about taking the best prospects giving them real chances and seeing if they stick.  Let's see if they can do it. 

As for the other guys - yes they are first round picks but we've noted before - there's a big difference in top 7ish first round picks and after that. The Top picks are usually very good bets to be good major leaguers. Maybe not great ones, though some will be, but good ones. After that historical performance shows quick drop off.  The end of the first round where Hill (23), Downs (32) and Chavis (26) were taken are guys that have 2-3 WAR careers. Fill in players are the expectations.  If that doesn't make sense to you think of it this way.  There are 30 teams with players roughly from 20-34. That's 15 years of drafts.  If lower first round picks were usually very good every team would have like 10 very good or better players. The league would be swimming in great players. It isn't.

While Downs, Chavis, and Hill are better bets than a 3rd, or 10th, or 18th rounder at having the natural talent to be a great player, history tells us that the best bet to lay on them is that they are just guys that float in and out of the majors.  The Nats have been drafting at the back of the draft for a few years now. That's part of the reason they are where they are. Getting other teams guys from there, ones that aren't connecting. Well it's better than random minor leaguers or old major leaguers on their way out, but it's still not a winning strategy, at least not if it's the Nats best move, which it appears to be.  Give me a few more Dom Smith type moves though and I'll change my mind.


Expos 1983 Blog said...

Even the reasonable best case scenario with Smith (.280 with some doubles, a few homers, no walks and zero defense) is hopeless.

Harper said...

Depends what "some doubles" and "few homers" means. If he can hit 20+ homers while hitting .280 that's probably enough to be above average at the plate. Of course where do you play him? Only 1B and DH work while you are figuring it out

Expos 1983 Blog said...

Right, and you'd need to be way above average at the plate in order to justify clogging up a spot that *must* contribute a high obp and slg