After the New York Mets drafted first baseman, Dominic Smith in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft, the Mets plan at first base short term and long term seemed very clear. That plan was to have Lucas Duda as the first baseman until developed into a major league player.
However, fast forward to nearly five years later, Duda is no longer a Met and it is unclear if Smith is going to be the Mets everyday first baseman going forward. Part of this is due to the fact that the Mets have another solid first base prospect that isn’t that far behind Smith in the Mets organization. That guy would be Mets 2016 second round pick, Peter Alonso.
In mid-August last season, Smith finally got called up to the big leagues after the Mets traded Duda to the Tampa Bay Rays, but had a disappointing month and a half as the Mets everyday first baseman. In 49 games last season, Smith only batted .198 but hit nine home runs and drove in 26.
The Mets organization didn’t really seem impressed with Smith’s audition late last season, so they signed 35 year old, Adrian Gonzalez for the league minimum. This will likely make him the everyday first baseman for the Mets to at least start the season, which would send Smith to Triple-A Las Vegas to start his 2018 campaign.
So to start the season, Smith is expected to be in Las Vegas while Alonso is expected to be in Double-A Binghamton, giving Smith less time to prove that he belongs in the big leagues with Alonso rapidly emerging. The Mets do expect Smith to be back in the big leagues at some point this season, so he should certainly have another opportunity to show the Mets that he is the long-term solution at first base.
However, Smith’s big league opportunities in 2018 will be much more crucial for his future compared to late last season for a few reasons. The first being that last season
when Smith was starting at first base every day, the Mets were already well out of playoff contention and most of the significant hitters in the Mets lineup were either injured or traded away. That most likely won’t be the case if he is recalled from Triple-A this season as the Mets expect to be very competitive in 2018 and try to do all they can to keep their big-name players healthy.
Secondly, last season when Smith got called up to the big leagues in August, Alonso was just beginning his tenure in Double-A Binghamton as he played 82 of his 93 games in 2017 with High Single-A Port St. Lucie. So Alonso is a lot closer to reaching the big league level now compared to where he was last year, giving Smith a little less time to prove to the Mets he is an everyday big league first baseman.
Finally, whenever Smith gets recalled this season, he should have MUCH more protection around him in the lineup compared to what he had around him in the Mets lineup in September last season due to all of the injuries and trades. Late last season, there were plenty of games where Smith was batting right in the middle of that Mets lineup with bench players such as Brandon Nimmo, Kevin Plawecki, or Juan Lagares batting around him in the lineup. That was putting a lot of pressure on the kid as he seemed to be in the heart of the lineup every day, giving him less good pitches to hit.
This season the Mets have new acquisitions Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce along with Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto returning from season-ending injuries that derailed their 2017 seasons. These players will be in the heart of the order, not Smith, which should give him much more protection around him in the lineup this year compared to last year.
So in 2018 when Smith returns to the big leagues, he will be put into a much better situation in the lineup where he can get better pitches to hit, assuming a majority of the big bats on the Mets roster stay healthy.
So even if Smith gets recalled at some point in 2018 and does prove that he can be a solid everyday first baseman at the big league level, what is going to happen to Peter Alonso when he is ready for the big leagues? In a total of 93 games last season between High Single-A and Double-A, Alonso hit .289 with 18 home runs, 63 RBIs, and a .883 OPS.
With him expected to start the season with Double-A Binghamton, if he keeps this rate up and stays healthy in 2018, there is little to no doubt that he will see some playing time with Triple-A Las Vegas at some point later in the season.
Assuming Alonso can stay healthy and he continues this rate of play up, he could be in the big leagues as soon as next season, giving the Mets a very tough decision to make at first base between him and Smith. If both Smith and Alonso can prove that they are big league first basemen, the Mets will have two options in store for these guys to determine who plays first base every day.
The first option would be to try to move one of these guys to a different position and keep the other one as the everyday first baseman. However, this could be tough to do because they are both big bodied guys who are each at least six feet tall and weigh 225.
Maybe if Smith continues to cut down his weight and shows some more athleticism, the Mets could consider eventually moving him to the outfield and keeping Alonso at first base. Or, once Todd Frazier’s two-year contract with the Mets expires, they could move Alonso over to third base and keep Smith at first base.
The second option the Mets will have available if Smith and Alonso are both proven big league players a few years from now would be to trade one of these guys.
Back in 2013 and 2014, the Mets tried splitting time at first base between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda but that never really worked out as they eventually traded Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates soon after the start of the 2014 season and that could certainly happen a few years from now with Smith and Alonso.
It is no secret that in any sport, it is tough for any player to get into a groove if they are consistently splitting playing time with someone else, no matter what position it is, so what makes me think that splitting time between Smith and Alonso could possibly work?
It would be more beneficial to the Mets and both of these players if they trade one of them for a player at a different position in return. Each of these players will likely have a starting job at first base, one for the Mets and one with another big league team, and the Mets would likely get a decent player back in a trade with either Smith or Alonso being moved.
Even though this isn’t really an issue that the Mets need to worry about at the moment, it is certainly something worth thinking about. But for right now, the Mets main focus should be to win in 2018 and hope that this year Dominic Smith can prove that he can be a solid everyday player at the big league level while Alonso continues his rapid development in the Mets farm system.