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New York Mets: Dominic Smith open to learning center field

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 26: Dominic Smith #22 of the New York Mets is congratulated after he scored on a single by Tomas Nido against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning of a baseball game at Citizens Bank Park on June 26, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 26: Dominic Smith #22 of the New York Mets is congratulated after he scored on a single by Tomas Nido against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning of a baseball game at Citizens Bank Park on June 26, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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Dominic Smith has a plan to work his way into the New York Mets lineup next year. This winter, he’s going to work on his speed and hope to make himself available to play center field.

Along with a solid performance on the field when healthy this season, we got to see some good things from Dominic Smith and the person he is. The New York Mets first baseman turned left fielder remained eternally optimistic. Even now, with the team playing some late meaningless games, his positive attitude has erupted.

In a conversation with Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Smith discussed some offseason plans. Included is how he has hired a track coach to help him gain some speed. One of the reasons he wants a faster pair of tires is to make himself available for center field in 2020. Oh boy.

Smith is a solid first baseman who belongs at the position he came up through the minor leagues playing. This obviously isn’t going to happen with Pete Alonso around. The next best choice is to turn him into a serviceable left fielder—or trade him.

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I understand many people want to keep Smith around as a bench bat. This isn’t a bad idea whatsoever. Long term, though, something has to give. Alonso isn’t a veteran limping around the field. Carrying two first basemen on a roster only makes sense when one of those guys is near the end of his career. Alonso is just getting started.

If Smith was able to learn center field, the Mets would be in a great spot. He could fill one of their biggest offseason needs without forcing the team to make a trade or sign a free agent. I could say the same thing about turning Rene Rivera into an elite-level relief pitcher. It sure would be nice, but feels impossible.

Smith never looked comfortable enough in left field to make me believe a shot at center field is something in his near future. The biggest difference between the two positions is the range needed to field it.

Stereotypically, left fielders are the worst fielders beyond the infield dirt. They don’t need the speed of a center fielder or arm of a right fielder. This doesn’t mean everyone in left field is a DH waiting to happen. With some hard work, I think Smith could develop into a good enough left fielder. But center field? I feel like this is a futile effort.

Smith deserves credit for making the effort. All year long, he made himself available to the Mets however they needed. His bat earned him more at-bats than we expected early on. If not for an injury, I think we would have seen him plenty more down the stretch.

The Mets have several internal options to play center field in 2020. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo both have experience at the position. However, each looks much better in a corner spot.

Early on in 2019, there was a lot of talk about shortstop Amed Rosario moving there. Well, he figured out his infield defense pretty well. And with Andres Gimenez struggling in Double-A, there’s no rush to move Rosario anywhere.

Until I see Smith sandwiched between the left fielder and the right fielder, I’ll remain doubtful he can pull it off. Center field is a tough place to play for even the most experienced of outfielders. He can get quicker and more confident tracking down a fly ball all winter long.

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In the meantime, I’ll think of more ways they can fit him and the other dozen corner infielders and outfielders on their roster next year.

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