The New York Mets will have many new faces arriving in Port St. Lucie, Florida on February 12th. Most of the roster is already set for opening day with the exception of a couple of bullpen and utility role competitions. We know Pete Alonso will be the first baseman, Brandon Nimmo will roam the outfield, and Kodai Senga will toe the rubber as their number one starter. As questions were answered from the offseason, many have gone unanswered. For instance, is Mark Vientos going to be the designated hitter? Is Brett Baty going to be contested as the everyday third baseman? Does the price of diapers still motivate D.J. Stewart?
Suffice it to say, the Mets will have competition in determining certain roles on opening day. The most intriguing aspect of spring training is evaluating the performance of players who are not guaranteed certain roles. For example, Tylor Megill is traveling to Port St. Lucie without a guaranteed role; he could be the 5th starter, a long-relief pitcher, or start the season in AAA Syracuse. For this reason, Megill's performance in March will determine the short-term reality of his career. If he performs well, Megill could force his way into the rotation and build upon his opportunity. In reviewing the past few spring training, which fringe players jumpstarted their careers by first performing well in spring training?
5. Dominic Smith, 2019.
The Mets finished the 2018 regular season without a clear answer at first base. They started the season with Adrian Gonzalez signed to a minimum-value contract, just to release him by mid-June. From that point on, the team tried out Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, and Dominic Smith at first base. In summary, none of these players performed well enough to earn an everyday role in 2019. In fact, only Smith would return in February from this cast of players from 2018. This was in part due to the intrigue of Pete Alonso's monster performance in the minor leagues that season.
Based on the circumstances, Smith entered spring training without a role on the Mets. His performance both at the major and minor league levels in 2018 was the worst of his career, leading him to fall below Alonso and J.D. Davis on the depth chart. The team tried to play Smith in left field, but his offense did not overcome any defensive deficiencies. As per the prior spring training with Gonzalez at first base, Smith would have to outperform his competition to make the roster.
Smith entered spring training 2019 as a brand-new man; he sought treatment for sleep apnea in the offseason and reworked his batting approach with the help of new hitting coach Chili Davis. This resulted in a .321 batting average with 2 home runs and 12 RBI across 19 spring training games. Even though Alonso drew all the attention for his great performance, Smith impressed Brodie Van Wagenen enough to make the roster as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement. Smith would perform well in 2019, hitting .282 with 11 home runs and 25 RBI across just 89 games, earning himself an everyday role in 2020.